Table of Contents

Like most blogs, this one displays the most recent posts first. For anyone reading it after the fact (rather than following along while we traveled), such a reverse-chronological order may make it more difficult to see the big picture.

Here, then, is a table of contents of our trip in chronological order.

Appendix:

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Final Thoughts on Our Scotland Trip

Now that we’re back home, I wanted to reflect on our epic Scotland trip and share some final thoughts and recommendations. In no particular order:

Castles Galore. I speculated in this blog posting that Scotland has more castles than whisky distilleries. Turns out that’s a true fact. We saw and/or visited twelve of them—almost (but not quite) one per day, though well short of the more than 2,000 castles in Scotland. The ones we checked off the list: Balvenie, Doune, Duart, Edinburgh, Eilean Donan, Glengorm, Inverness, Midhope, Mingary, Stalker, Stirling and Urquhart.

Miles Galore. With a ton of sightseeing packed into most days, we did lots of walking—we couldn’t avoid it. I tallied the number of steps and miles recorded by my phone over the course of our two-week trip, and the total number is astounding, considering that a six-year-old child walked every step with us: 182,381 steps, or nearly 73 miles!

Packing Cubes. We moved around quite a bit on this trip, staying in six different B&Bs. That made packing—and the ability to quickly and easily unpack and repack—very important. We followed the common advice to use packing cubes, which made it easy to stay organized and keep from having to unpack half the suitcase to find one shirt. We bought Pro Packing Cubes, which I’d definitely recommend.

Explorer Pass. If you plan to visit more than a couple of castles, by all means check out the Explorer Pass. This gets you into more than 70 of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland. We paid the family rate of £84 for the seven-day pass. If we’d paid separately at each of the castles covered by the pass, we would have spent £122.

Offline Google Maps. I used Google Maps everywhere we went, and though I am generally excellent with maps, I probably would have gotten us horribly lost every day without GPS. We didn’t want to get gouged by our cell phone provider for data, so we kept our phones in airplane mode the entire two weeks. But Google Maps allows you to download maps to your smartphone and then use the app offline as you normally would over a cellular network. This was a lifesaver for us.

Single-Track Roads. Two lanes constitute a major highway in Scotland, and most highways are only one lane. When you get away from highly trafficked areas, however, most roads are single-track: that is, a single car-width lane used by cars going in both directions. This sounds daunting, but “passing places”—a widening of the road where cars can pass each other—are generally placed every few hundred feet. It took a little getting used to, but didn’t end up being a big deal. Here’s a video showing how to drive on single-track roads.

Average Speed Cameras. Speaking of driving, the UK has speed cameras. This isn’t new, but what is relatively new is “average speed cameras.” I kept seeing “average speed” on the road signs that noted speed cameras, and eventually learned that these cameras record your license plate info at each checkpoint and calculate your average speed between two or more checkpoints. If your speed averages out higher than the speed limit, congratulations—you just earned a fine. This prevents abuse by people who would slow down for the camera and then speed up again. I learned this rather late in our trip, so I’d be surprised if the rental car company doesn’t forward some fines my way.

Photography. Speaking of cameras, all of the photos you see in this blog were shot with the iPhone 8 Plus. I hauled my DSLR along when we went to Iceland, and frankly I find it annoying to carry such a big piece of equipment. These days, smartphones take great photos, and the iPhone 8 Plus has one of the best cameras of any smartphone. And it’s really easy to carry!

Top Sheets. We noticed in Iceland and again in Scotland that people don’t generally use top sheets (I’m not sure whether this is a general European practice). The beds in our Airbnb rentals had fitted sheets on the mattresses and then a duvet on top. This confused us the first time we encountered it (“where’s the sheet?”), but I think it’s way more efficient than including a top sheet. First, you don’t have an extra piece of bedding to arrange or get tangled up in. Second, you avoid the debate of which side of a patterned top sheet goes face up. Third, it’s simply more cozy. Note to future guests: the Strickland household may adopt this practice.

Roundabouts. Speaking of efficiency, roundabouts get two thumbs up from me. They get a bad rap from Americans who are too dumb to understand how to use them, but they do a much better job at regulating traffic than traffic lights.

Contactless Credit Cards. And one more observation under the theme of efficiency. It’s no secret that the US has long lagged behind Europe in terms of financial technology (and in many other areas, but I won’t start a political debate here). They’ve had chips in their credit cards for ages, while we just got them in the last few years. They now have “contactless” credit cards, where you simply tap your card on a card reader and then go on your merry way. No insertion or swipe of card, no PIN to enter, no slip of paper to sign, no waiting for the transaction to process. Just tap and go. We’ll get there. By the year 2030, I’m sure.

We had an amazing trip. Thanks again for coming along with us.

Our Route and Trip Highlights

For those who like maps and are interested in exactly what ground we covered in Scotland, I’m sharing a Google Map that lays out our route.

Here’s a list of the main highlights of our itinerary:

  • 4 nights in Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland, Colton Hill, the Royal Mile, day trip to Stirling Castle.
  • 3 nights in Nairn: a home base from which to explore the northeast of Scotland, including Loch Ness and the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail.
  • 2 nights in Portree on the Isle of Skye: the Fairy Pools, Talisker Distillery and the sights on the Trotternish Peninsula (Fairy Glen, Quairang, Kilt Rock, the Old Man of Storr).
  • 2 nights in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull: including an all-day boat excursion to the islands of Lunga and Staffa.
  • 1 night in Glengorm Castle: a lovely splurge that would be better done as two nights (to have a full day to enjoy the sprawling acreage around the castle).
  • 2 nights in Glasgow: the cathedral, Necropolis and the Museum of Transport.

scotland

One Day in Glasgow

Our final day in Scotland was a denouement of sorts: a wrapping-up of a long, convoluted and exciting adventure around the country. It was a brief respite before heading home, a short rest after a long journey, a small sampling of the “Second City of the Empire” (as Glasgow was once known). It was decidedly not a full exploration of the city; I’m not sure we can say we truly “did” Glasgow.

Not for lack of trying; we had our longest day of walking yet, nearly 20,000 steps (seven-plus miles, and Molly walked every step with us). But unlike Edinburgh with its compact historical center and Royal Mile, Glasgow is spread out and sprawling. We’re staying in Merchant City, the very happening heart of the City Centre, but Glasgow’s cultural attractions are scattered all about the city.

We did manage some highlights, however, including perhaps the oldest: the Glasgow Cathedral, dedicated way back in 1136.

We weren’t on the hunt for more pop-cultural Outlander attractions, but we stumbled upon a tiny chapel within the cathedral where some scenes from the show were filmed (Claire’s convalescence in France)—a small bit of trivia likely of interest only to fans of the show.

“Out back” behind the cathedral is the Necropolis, a sprawling cemetery to rival other cities of the dead like Paris’ Pere Lachaise and the Bronx’ Woodlawn. It was created during the Victorian Age, when Glasgow industries minted a whole new crop of wealthy Glaswegians, and the opulence of their final resting places shows off that wealth.

Next, we went to the Riverside Museum, which (due to the city sprawl described above) required a subway ride—always fun to try out in a new city.

If you see something, say something

The Riverside Museum houses the Glasgow Museum of Transport, which we’d read from many sources was a great place for kids and an interesting institution in its own right. Those recommendations were on the nose; it was quite a cool place.

The museum housed examples of every type of transport imaginable, from prams and bicycles to double-decker buses and a locomotive—and an entire wall of cars.

It even included a faux main street, with storefronts containing a variety of interactive exhibits. It reminded me of Disneyland and Cassie of Las Vegas (read into that what you will).

One final observation about Glasgow: like Reykjavik in Iceland, the city seems to have very much bought into the idea of public art, a movement I wish more cities would adopt. We came across many murals splashed across the sides of buildings.

And that, dear readers, is my final dispatch from abroad—we head for the airport first thing in the morning. Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope my words at least in some part brought the journey alive for you. Slàinte mhath!

Thanks, Tony

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
—Anthony Bourdain

I’d be lying if I said Anthony Bourdain ignited my love of travel. I fell head over heels long before I ever heard his name. But I’d also be lying if I said he hasn’t been a major source of inspiration. That he has. What a life he lived, at least on screen. As my friend Raleigh said today, “he had the best job in the world.”

Of course, what he was going through off screen, I can’t pretend to know or understand, and I don’t feel the slightest bit qualified to comment or speculate. I’ll just offer up a big, heartfelt thank-you for sharing your adventures—and your perspectives—with us.

Winding Down

We said goodbye to Glengorm Castle almost as fast as we said hello to it, but not before a big breakfast Downton Abbey style in the grand dining room—at a table allegedly older than the castle itself. One of the castle dogs was friendly (and expectant).

Today mostly consisted of traveling from the Isle of Mull to Glasgow. But what the day lacked in activity, it made up with scenery. First was a ferry ride through the islands to Oban (with a brief stop to look at Duart Castle on Mull).

Duart Castle, ancestral home of Clan Maclean

This ferry opened up its entire bow to eat cars

Epic, wide-open scenery that photos can’t capture

A small portion of the Oban waterfront

An obvious and required stop

On the road to Glasgow, another castle beckoned: Castle Stalker. The Monty Python fans among you will recognize this one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the elusive home of the Grail itself: Castle Aaaaaaaaaargh.

The rest of the journey to Glasgow was heart-stoppingly beautiful. First, we drove through Glencoe, an area of stark, steep mountains criss-crossed with trails: a backpacker’s delight. We came upon many Glencoe recommendations during our trip research, but had too many other places we wanted to visit. Seeing it in person today will keep Scotland on our bucket list for a return visit. (Sorry, no photos!)

Next, we passed through Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. As in Glencoe, we only passed through quickly, without stopping to see more, but it was clear why Loch Lomond is Scotland’s other famous loch.

Finally making it to Glasgow, I was only too ready to surrender our rental car. After 800 miles of driving on the “wrong” side (much of it on single-track roads), I’d had enough. We had only enough time to seek out dinner, but I snapped a few photos as we walked. Tomorrow, we have a full day (our last) to explore the city.

A Castle Fit for a Family

We’ve been on the Isle of Mull since Tuesday, but so far we’ve seen only the town of Tobermory and the parts of the island that can be seen from the ocean. This morning, we left our Airbnb for our next place (more on that to come), so it was time to see a bit of the island.

First stop (actually, the only stop} was Calgary Bay. We’ve heard this was the most beautiful beach on Mull, and one of the prettiest in all of Scotland, so it was worth a visit. And it was indeed gorgeous.

I also spotted a unique find, which took me a moment to identify. At first I couldn’t figure out what part of anatomy these bones belonged to, until I realized they were from a whale flipper. A ranger later confirmed that a pilot whale had washed up on shore and been buried on the beach, and that these bones had since been unearthed. It’s easy to see the similarities between cetacean flippers and our own mammalian hands.

Tonight was a big splurge intended as a climax to this epic trip: a night in a castle! Glengorm Castle sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean, with vast cattle lands all around it with lots of hiking opportunities, so our plan was to check in as early as possible and enjoy the castle grounds as much as time allowed. Google Maps GPS has served us well on this trip, so I plotted the route from Calgary Bay to the castle. That’s when Google Maps finally failed us.

With all of the single-track roads we’ve been driving on (including the one from Tobermory to Calgary Bay), we didn’t expect a four-lane highway. Still, we were surprised when Google directed us off pavement, onto a rocky dirt road. I paused to consult the map, and it seemed legit; there was a “road” on the map that led to the castle. So we forged ahead, despite the ambiguous signs that implied the road was private.

Things started to seem sketchy when we came upon huge piles of logs stacked on either side of the narrow dirt road. A bit further on, we had to pull to the side to let a couple of logging trucks pass us, coming from the opposite direction. Then Google switched things up on us, sending us in the opposite direction and suddenly adding a half hour to our journey. I looked closely at the map again and decided to opt for an offshoot dirt road, but that soon proved to be a mistake. Despite the extra time it would add to backtrack, we decided the prudent move was to retrace our steps and find another way.

But luck was still not with us. Working our way backward, we came upon the log piles again. This time, however, one of the logging trucks that had passed us was busy at work, loading up some logs—and blocking the entire narrow road (as you’ll see if you look closely at the end of this video clip}.

We had no choice but to turn back around and follow the dirt road as far as it would take us. Which took awhile. And caused no small amount of stress to me and Cassie (while Molly, blissfully unaware, watched TV in the back seat). Finally, after about 23 days (or so it seemed), we found pavement again. From there, GPS figured out the right route. Whew.

Lost in the middle of nowhere

The aftereffects

So what started out as a brief side trip to the beach before our castle visit turned into quite the adventure. Which I suppose made the castle itself all the more rewarding. And rewarding it was.

Words will fail me if I try to describe the rooms, so I’m including some video clips:

The living room and staircase

The whisky library (including free run of the whiskies on the shelf)

The dining room

Our bedroom

Casting aside spontaneity in favor of being sure we had a place to stay and something to do every day, I planned our whole trip in detail. I fully expected some things to not live up to expectations, but that hasn’t been the case—especially with Glengorm Castle. This place is amazing.

Because of the special circumstances and spectacular view, we let Molly stay up late to see the sunset (which, in these parts, at this time of year, doesn’t come until well after 10 PM).

I have to say, too, the whisky library was a pretty awesome place from which to blog….

Tomorrow, we wind things down by heading to Glasgow, where we’ll turn in the rental car and from which we’ll fly home on Sunday.