Scotland Travel Questions
For this blog post I’m breaking from my norm and encouraging some audience participation. This week I asked my Instagram followers to pitch me any questions they wanted about Scotland, with my local expertise at their disposal. 6 years of experience and countless trips around my home country have seen me gather plenty of memories and opinions about how to get the most out of these lands and I love nothing more in this job than passing those on. That’s why I do this. Here are the results of the Q&A and do let me know in the comments below if you have any other Scotland travel questions you would like to see added:
Are there any places left that aren’t full of tourists?
God yes. Scotland has a current problem with over-tourism in some hot-spots but outside of Edinburgh, Glen Coe, Loch Ness, Skye and stretches of the North Coast 500, I don’t think we’re close to being saturated in the tourism months. Southern Scotland is an obvious example and The Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire are still crying out for more visitors.
Best time of year to visit?
April-June and September-October are my favourite months of the year. Winters are increasingly long and unpredictable (although not as cold as many might expect) and July and August see attractions busy and midges out in force. The weather in the spring and autumn months tends to be more stable with longer stretches of sunshine and cooler temperatures. For the question about teenagers though, New Year is the ultimate party and being part of the Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations will appeal to even the most sullen of teenagers. If they are looking at sports then the autumn is ideal and the watersports (kayaking, white water rafting, coasteering etc) on the coast and islands may appeal.
Any part of Scotland I haven’t been and where do I feel most at home?
I’ve been almost everywhere in Scotland aside from some of our many, many islands. Jura is probably the most significant of those that I have not been to. Something will have to be done about that.
Glasgow has always been home for me and I still smile stupidly every time I return from an extended period away. But I am also enormously drawn to the Outer Hebrides and always will be.
What is your opinion about NC500?
Great marketing. Simply by quantifying an existing route it’s given a brand to a part of the country that is simply glorious. There are good and bad elements to the sudden interest in the northern coasts but I’m generally in the camp that says tourism does more good than bad and the economic appeal can only be good news. We do need more accommodation along the route, the roads will need more upkeep and the standard of facilities must improve but, on the whole, I’m very happy about the buzz it has generated.
I might be going to university in Scotland, is it friendly to internationals/non-locals?
Yes, very. I’m proud to say that Scotland is predominantly a very liberal and tolerant place with a friendly nature. Safety is pretty much assured as long as you deploy common sense and our cities in particular are very international and ideal for students. In this job, I have to address traveller concerns with regards Brexit regularly and would underline that Scotland was very clearly opposed to this decision and has a general position of openness towards immigration – from government policy to people on the street. For our European friends I find it hard to believe that coming to live, work and study here will be massively impacted in the near-future but I appreciate that the uncertainty is worrying.
My mood/the setting/the weather is very important in this regard and I’m not brand, or even region, loyal….yet. Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Lagavulin 16 are right up there as big hitting Islay drams that I love on the right occasion. Up Speyside way, Macallan never lets me down but the quality across the likes of Aberlour, Glenlivet, Cardhu and Glenfarclas is relentlessly good. For Highland drams I love Dalmore and Dalwhinnie 15, while the Glengoyne 18 is also fabulous.
Day trips from Glasgow using public transport for some nice views/nature/history (in December)?
The Trossachs and Argyll are both packed with history and perfect for road trips. The former was Rob Roy territory and you can visit his grave or pop over to Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith. Or rope together Kilchurn Castle, Kilmartin Glen’s Standing Stones and Dunstaffnage Castle with the scenery at Loch Awe, Loch Fyne and Loch Lomond for a drive you’ll not forget.
What are the best castles that you recommend to visit?
Ohh, tricky. My top castle picks include Caerlaverock, Kilchurn, Tantallon, Campbell, Tioram, Kisimul, Threave, Dunure, Craigievar and Dunnottar. But bear in mind I have a personal leaning to atmospheric ruins generally dating from the 12th-15th Century.
What would be the best day trip from Edinburgh to see nature and seaside?
I’d nudge you towards East Lothian with this one. North Berwick is a lovely coastal town (with beach) and the region is full of history and charm. It’s very easily accessible from Edinburgh and you can also take boat trips with the Scottish Seabird Centre to Bass Rock and the Isle of May to see puffins, gannets, dolphins and seals!
Do you have a good Highland itinerary to get a little bit of everything it has to offer?
It is something I should perhaps look into creating, good point. The standard route would see you work your way north from Edinburgh into Perthshire and then veer west either to Glen Coe or the Loch Ness area before heading to Skye and possibly the Outer Hebrides or North Coast 500. This road trip itinerary may be of use to you with a variety of options, spread over a very comprehensive 3 weeks.
Thoughts on the Enchanted Forest outdoor light show. Any tips?
I’ve only been once, briefly, and yes it was very atmospheric and visually beautiful. Perthshire is second-to-none when it comes to trees and at the start of the event run you’ll certainly see Highland Perthshire in all its colourful autumnal glory. I’d try and get there towards the beginning of the month that it runs for for that reason and certainly book accommodation nearby as soon as possible.
If we have 4 days, where’s best for Outlander fans?
Assuming a starting point of Edinburgh you can immediately visit Bakehouse Close (just off the Royal Mile) and Craigmillar Castle on the city outskirts. Heading west you can include Hopetoun House, Lallybroch, Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle in West Lothian. Then on to Fife and the likes of Culross, Falkland, Dysart Harbour and Aberdour Castle. Glasgow has several spots including the fantastic Cathedral and you can end by going south into Ayrshire to see the dramatic ruins of Dunure Castle and, inland, the opulent mansion of Drumlanrig. If you felt you had time then Highland highlights like Glen Coe and Kinnloch Rannoch would be further options to add in. You can also track all of the top Outlander filming sites, including some Jacobite favourites, in my itinerary guide.
Can you recommend a Munro to climb? Best way to get there? What about dogs when hiking?
Ohhh I can recommend many. Here’s a few to get you started if you are a relative beginner. The easiest one, and the default entry point into Munro Bagging, tends to be Ben Lomond. Very straightforward and a gradual ascent throughout, it’s one for building that early confidence. A car is always by far the easiest option as hikes generally have designated starting points and car parks. While public transport may get you close, it’s never going to be particularly convenient (unless you bring a bike that is, which would help). I’m not a dog owner – yet – but it’s generally no problem to take them with you as long as you clean up after them and they don’t go terrifying other animals. My observation is that well-behaved dogs are warmly welcomed throughout Scotland.
Do you plan on writing an Outer Hebrides itinerary for £6?
Nice suggestion, I’ll get on it over the winter. In the meantime, here are the highlights from this summer’s visit.
If you had to spend one week in Scotland’s outdoors, where would you go?
Given that I’ve had two trips to the Outer Hebrides this year – as opposed to my usual one – I’d spend more time working my way up and down the west coast of the NC500. Much of the week would be spent hiking in Assynt.
Did Mary Queen of Scots rule her country as the people wanted or did she decide what was best?
I’m not a fan of monarchies as a general rule but Mary was amongst our most fascinating rulers and there’s no question she did not get it easy. Being Catholic and dealing with the at times lethal Protestant Reformation made her job in balancing Scotland’s very fragile religious divide near-impossible. I see her as a tragically alone figure – even her various husbands were never around long enough to support her – that met a grim and undeserved end. She never got much of a chance to properly ‘rule’ given the tumultuous nature of her lifetime.
My bestie and I are discussing visiting the Highland Games. Do you recommend it?
I’m not a huge fan of Highland Games personally, it’s not really my scene. A lot of international visitors do see it as an essential addition to their Scotland itinerary though so you’ll certainly not be alone!
Where’s the best area to base ourselves near Edinburgh to explore the region with 2 kids?
For best access to The Lothians, the likes of Roslin and the area around the Pentland Hills gives you fast motorway access to a big area, but without the city pace. Other towns like Linlithgow, Musselburgh and the like would allow similarly good access in the not-too-far-away vicinity.
What’s the best way to see Scotland on a budget?
Scotland (and Britain) is not generally a cheap place to come to, although the dire state of the pound at the moment makes it a bit more attractive. Finding hostels is pretty easy in our cities, as is AirBnB accommodation. When travelling up north, camping is the cheapest option and wild camping (under the right to roam) is generally permitted throughout the Highlands as long as you leave the site as you found it. Bothies are other options in our remotest areas, if you can find them. Car hire does not need to be expensive and you’ll benefit from shopping around.
How difficult is driving through Scotland if you’re considering renting a car?
Fairly easy in the Highlands and Islands as the routes are pretty obvious and you’ll adjust quickly. Just beware of single track roads and the need to use passing places. I would advise against driving in the cities for first time visitors as a. you don’t need to and b. driving on the wrong side of the road and navigating our endless roundabouts takes some getting used to.
What are one or two things to do when visiting Glasgow?
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Glasgow Cathedral would be my Glasgow top two if you can really only fit two in, but please stay longer!
Just came back from my roadtrip through Scotland and loved it! What is your favourite island? Secret hideaways?
Great! Scotland’s islands are incredible and have a fabulous diversity. My favourites, although it’s extremely hard, are Harris and North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Take a walk around the Udal Peninsula in North Uist for remote perfection or the peaks of North Harris for mountain desolation.
What does the Viking invasion mean to Scotland today?
It was always great fun studying these guys in primary school. They played an instrumental part in Britain’s history as, while they will be remembered as terrifying raiding warriors, they were also highly progressive settlers. You can learn about their legacy in many of our great museums, in towns like Largs where they were ultimately thwarted (see Vikingar!) or, even better, by heading to the Shetland Isles where they left the biggest mark. It’s not looked upon in a negative way in my experience and the thrill of the Torchlight Procession at Hogmanay in Edinburgh or Lerwick’s legendary Up Helly Aa show the awe in which they are still regarded.
Why have you still not visited Portmahomack – rich Pictish history? And Tain….oldest royal burgh?
I do try to get everywhere but have to juggle quite a lot in terms of where to head to and it’s a bold trek from Glasgow! But I’ll try and get there next month when on my latest whisky campaign as I’m aware of their appeal don’t worry.
Any favourite food experiences in Scotland? How about a Scottish food blog?
I still maintain that Scotland has a long, long way to go in the food department. Brilliant natural produce (seafood, lamb and beef in particular) is too often let down with lazy and inept cooking that does nothing for our image as an alarmingly unhealthy nation. This pessimism does not wholly apply to Glasgow and Edinburgh who can both boast several genuinely world class restaurants. Nor does it apply to top, top eateries like Café Fish in Tobermory, The Lochleven Seafood Café, the Oban Seafood Hut, The Scalloway Hotel and several others. But I am not planning on going down the food blogger line as my personal preferences tend to be more in the Mediterranean and Asian styles of cuisine….although I do love haggis and seafood. And, to answer the haggis question, yes it’s widely eaten here on a day-to-day basis but quality vegetarian haggis options do exist as well.
Any suggestions for Islay?
I hope you like whisky! A great wee place but its appeal unquestionably centres around the golden liquid. Get at least a couple of tours in – Lagavulin was particularly memorable for me. It boasts all of the appeal of our west coast islands – rugged landscapes and Celtic mystique but with wee towns boosted by the wealth brought by the deep pockets of whisky connoisseurs from around the world. Check out seal-spotting at Portnahaven and the 8th Century Kildalton Cross for sure as well.
With over 100 questions submitted I have had to merge a few into the above answers but hopefully I have succeeded in covering the big ones! Now, do you have any questions of your own?
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