The sun always shines in Scotland

You’re going backpacking…in Scotland?” One of many left bemused by my boyfriend and I’s decision to venture north this August. “You’re both mad” seemed the general consensus.
Certainly, Scotland may not be a traditional summer holiday destination, but I found myself proffering many intentions of returning, and not just because of the raucous moments inspired by countless drams of fine local whiskeys. As anticipated, rain was plentiful, temperatures rarely crept above 18 degrees, and as a result, this would prove to be the first summer holiday where I’d be forced to purchase a cagoule. However, only our belongings were dampened by the perpetual drizzle of our haphazard tour, with bagpipes ringing in our ears, and far too many fish and chip suppers lining our ever-growing ‘Scotland bellies’.
We began our trip in Edinburgh a few days before the Fringe (the result of poor planning), but the festival buzz hovered, with street entertainers delighting the crowds, and satirising the English. Given the touristy lure, you’ll generally find yourself in a whirlwind of ‘I love haggis’ style mementos, and sticky prices to match. But, to adopt a well-versed travelling cliché: wander a little further from the centre and you’ll find places less keen on selling their ‘Scottish-ness’, who are eager to offer good value and quality. Mum’s restaurant is one excellent example. If you’re interested in Scottish writing, the Writer’s Museum has several exhibitions including Robert Burns. They even showcase locks of hair, enough to satisfy the more peculiarly inquisitive.
From Edinburgh, we travelled to Perth and camped in Comrie Croft, a remote eco-campsite near Crieff. To wake, unzip the dewy tent, and look out over the Perthshire mountains whilst nibbling a reasonably-priced croissant (they even sold coffee 24 hours a day!) was blissful.
Plockton was our luxurious stop. A small fishing village in the west highlands nestled a few miles north of the Skye bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, overhung with mountains, but lined, somewhat unexpectedly, with palm trees. We stayed in the Captain’s House B&B, and were immediately welcomed off our train by the lovely owner, Julia, who had an infectious laugh, and made the finest scrambled eggs known to man. Truly. Remarkably (and with no prior planning), Julia informed us that Plockton carnival coincided with our visit, “it’s the one day of the year we all really let our hair down mmmhahahaha”. Locals insisted we join the celebrations, but luckily we managed to evade the dancing with a few pints of local ale from the Plockton hotel, voted Best Dining Hotel in Scotland by the Good Pub Guide 2011. The scallops were unforgettable (for palette and purse), and were hard to leave, but leave we had to. We hugged Julia goodbye, offered a final verbal celebration of the scrambled eggs, and set off for Skye.
We camped in Sligachan, a few miles south of the main town Portree. The campsite was surrounded by a 360 degree panorama of the Cuillin hills, some of Britain’s most spectacular mountains. Here, the landscape dwarfed electricity pylons, which became insignificant rather than characterising.
Of course it rained; it rained until we woke up underwater, in the most literal of senses (our towels still haven’t dried, and will never smell the same). If you aren’t phased by mist, torrential rain, and arctic temperatures, then Sligachan is perfect. Regretfully, we lacked such ranger spirit, and fought a long, intense battle with our small-fold tent, before eventually conceding victory and boarding a coach to Fort William, damp, muddy, and probably odorous.
In the morning, we caught another coach around the ridged shores of Loch Linnhe to Scotland’s ‘seafood capital’, Oban. Another memorable host, Jeremy Inglis, ‘welcomed’ us to his hostel by lamenting our (probably) jobless fate as students, but luckily countered a dour reception with great prices (£15 p/n for a double room), intriguing artwork, and what appeared to be a large stuffed octopus, lazing on our table.
Oban’s Skippinish ceilidh house is certainly worth a visit, even if a little artificial. The doorman let us in for free if we agreed to dance, which we did happily after a wee dram. From Oban, you can catch various ferries to the Isle of Mull, but it’s also worth exploring Oban – we stumbled upon a seafood stall next to the quay where you could buy a tub of steaming mussels cooked in wine and shallots for about £3. They also sold salmon sandwiches which, frankly, required a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
Our final destination was Glasgow. If you can, handle the slightly ominous atmosphere, visit the Necropolis, Glasgow’s Victorian burial ground. It’s easy to picture the Victorian death cult after wandering these rows of ornate tombs, some stretching into the sky and gazing down over the city. John Knox, leader of the Protestant reformation in Scotland, towers above the rest from a height of 58ft. Less menacing attractions can be found – there are plenty of excellent art galleries and museums, particularly the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, which boasts regular exhibitions from Scottish writer and artist Alasdair Gray, among many others.
In the evening, we headed to Merchant City district for lively bars and restaurants. Here, mussels we’d eaten fresh from the sea a few days ago, were advertised as a speciality, which left us feeling smug and well-travelled, until the chilli seasoning surfaced.
Sadly our trip had to end, and we lugged our backpacks to the station long-faced in the drizzle, wishing we were heading anywhere but London Euston. We crammed a lot into our brief trip, but there’s much more I’d love to explore in ‘the Canada of Britain’, our casually-offered title. My advice for Scotland explorers; Pack a cagoule, Pre-book trains, and Start anticipating that seafood!


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