When you think of Scotland, what do you imagine?
Rolling green hills covered in lethargically grazing sheep
Highland Cows with an extra fringe covering their eyes
Bagpipes played by red-haired men in kilts and knee-high socks
Whisky, whisky, and more whisky (sorry, Scotch)
Men drinking Scotch whilst staggering about, somehow still making it to where they belong
Haggis, the meaty dish banned for the past 45 years in the United States
Nessie, that famed monster of a fable (or is he real?) and lots of lochs
Scottish Terriers and their waggy shaggy shiny black coats
A week in Scotland was the only way to find out how many of these stereotypes were real and what other Scottish particulars I could pick up along the way.
Beginning in Edinburgh, several Scottish stereotypes were immediately confirmed. Not ten steps from the bus which had brought me into the capital city, I found my man: a young robust lad stood outside of St. Giles’ Cathedral dressed in a green and blue tartan kilt, knee-high white socks, black vest, and glengarry cap. As tourists and businessmen scurried about, he stood with feet firmly planted and shoulders squeezed tightly to form a perfect posture. He breathed in deeply and exhaled into the bass drone, filling the main square with an airy melody so particular to this area.
’Twas a proper piper. No red hair to speak of, but a proper piper nonetheless.
Click on an image to view the photos of Edinburgh up-close:
Throughout the next few days I was able to confirm a few more preconceptions. The clock barely passing 11am, I stopped to take a photo of what I considered to be a typical pub. As I waited for the lens to focus a man exited the pub with a grand smile. “Strike a pose!” he yelled loudly into the empty air, and taking to his own cue he immediately placed one hand on hip and the other behind his head, never losing that smile.
’Twas a proper Scot having drunk a bit o’ Scotch in the wee morning hours.
A while later, I passed a quaint older woman walking slowly along the base of Calton Hill. Her tiny hand clasped a red leash led by her very own Scottie dog. Shop windows were filled with Scottie dog memorabilia and in my childlike senses, I even picked up a pint-sized Scottie dog plush to keep me company (I can’t believe I’m telling you this). His name is Haggis.
’Twas a genteel Scot with her gentle Scottie.
Haggis. What is it and how can I get some? Restaurant signs throughout Edinburgh and Glasgow advertised haggis, neeps and tatties. Unsure of what to expect, I went in search for a sample sized portion and found this exact menu item at White Hart Inn. Edinburgh’s Oldest Pub, and a haunted one at that, offers a starter – perfect to ‘start’ one’s haggis adventure. I entered and asked for the dish.
“Ah, we’rn’t servin’ that now.” the young waiter told me. ’Twas 4pm. No haggis? “We’rn’t servin’ food now. These folks jus’ wan’ta drink, so these folks’ll jus’ drink. If we serve food, won’t be space ta drink. ’Ddjya like a drink?” Ah, why not? One Ennis & Gunn please.
‘Twasn’t any haggis.
The next day, I found just what I was looking for: haggis, neeps and tatties. Not knowing what the dish was, I thoroughly enjoyed its warm spiced savory goodness as much as I enjoyed its perfectly stacked presentation. A small disk of mashed potatoes topped with haggis and finished off with pureed turnips and a gentle liquor gravy. After slowly appreciating each tiny bite and nearly licking the bowl clean, I asked the waiter to enlighten me with what I’d just eaten.
’Twas a pudding. A pudding of sheep’s heart, lung, and liver mixed with oats and spices.
Good to know, after the fact rather than before. No wonder ’tis banned in the US!
Click on an image to view the photos of the Scottish Tour Highlights up-close:
With so many preconceived notions proven, what was a girl to do but keep going? To find the remaining sites, I looked to a childhood friend, teammate, and role model. After graduation, she had moved to the UK for a time, met a fine Scottish gentleman and fell in love. The couple was later married in Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire, roughly 100 kilometers north of Edinburgh. They’ve since moved to the US, but now own and operate the superb Vacation Scotland tour company and raise a pair of adorable twin boys.
I asked her for advice on what to see and do in Scotland, and got more than I imagined I would! After talking back and forth for a while and telling her what I was interested in, she sent a message telling me of a tour she could help arrange. Not only would we zoom past lots of lochs and rolling green hills covered in lethargically grazing sheep, we would also dip into the highlands to see the comical cows particular to the area. We would end the tour with a stop at Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery for a short introduction to what makes Scotch so special and sample the drink direct from its source.
Click on an image to view the photos of Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery up-close:
Between all things Scottish and superbly touristy, we would take a break in Dunkeld for a walk around the village and a brief time in Dunkeld Cathedral: where she and her husband were married.
When I heard this, I was immediately sold and ready to hit the ground running straight toward the cathedral. I replied with an eager “Yes, let’s do it!” and the next day, I boarded a bus along with sixteen others to all the aforementioned places and more.
The tour was exceptional, with the guide not only driving us from place to place, but delighting us with a proper Scottish accent and proper Scottish humor. We all fell in love with Scotland’s never-ending beauty and charming small towns. The food, as well, was absolutely exceptional… and we won’t even talk about the Scotch tour!
’Twas a connection with the past, a glimpse at the highland hills, and a sample of the finest Scotch Whisky known to man. And a huge “Thank yee” to my friends at Vacation Scotland!
Click on an image to view the photos of Dunkeld Cathedral and Queen’s View up-close:
That evening, my final one in Scotland, I was joined in the pub for yet another connection with the past. We’d met in India, visited in Poland, and now somehow both ended up in Edinburgh with just one day’s overlap and only a few hours’ notice.
’Twas a final Scottish toast with an ol’ pal and two full glasses o’ frothy ale.