Scotland Travel: Edinburgh to Inverness
(Most photos shot on 35mm film)
Scotland. Where to begin? I suppose I need to start by saying that nothing could have prepared me for how amazing this trip was. I had been eyeing Scotland for about 2 years with serious interest. Yes, some of this was fueled by my discovery of Outlander, I won’t lie. But it was actually while watching an episode of Outlander that I remembered that my dad had told me once about our first ancestor in the US coming from Scotland as a prisoner of war. You see about 10 years ago my dad got really into our ancestry and ended up finding a group of distant relatives who had all descended from the same Scottish man who came to the US in 1650 as prisoner of war from the Battle of Dunbar in Scotland. My dad quickly learned how our family’s lineage actually fit into this larger puzzle and so we found out our ancestry about 200 years further back then we had known. It was pretty cool! But, at age 20 it wasn’t really a highlight for me. My dad and talked about going to Scotland one day but never made plans.
Flash forward about 10 years and now my interest in Scotland was full peaked. I think there is a season and a time for everything in life. My time to be interested was now and I was hooked. I researched and Googled everything there was to see and do, best places to go, routes to take, castles to visit, historical land marks, trendy neighborhoods, I even Google Earthed the driving route I was considering so I could see the terrain and roads I was considering driving (on the opposite side of the road mind you). I was ready. I made my plan. 15 days in Scotland to basically traverse the whole country. It was ambitious but since I was traveling alone I felt like I could move as slow or fast as I wanted. I could wake up every day at 7am and walk the city till my feet fell off. I could either sit in a cafe for hours or eat while I walked the streets. It was all up to me- and I did all of the above!
I did as much preparation for this trip as I think humanly possible- a little overkill really. But nothing could have prepared me for what I found there. Scotland was beyond my dreams. The scenery, the history, the architecture, the landscapes- all mind blowing. But what really sticks out to me about my time there is the people. The Scottish people were so amazing! Hands down the nicest people I have ever met. The warmest, friendliest culture I have visited. Especially outside of the cities- in every small town- I was blown away by the kindness of strangers. The simple act of smiling at people and chatting. Not to mention the few times I actually needed help- in which case the generosity and helpfulness of everyone was beyond what I could have ever asked for. I felt safe and secure the entire time I was there. As a single female traveler it was my concern to feel safe where I went, especially after dark. Not once did I feel insecure or unsafe. I felt that I was among friends, among like minded people, kind souls. I really can’t say enough about the hospitality of the Scottish people!
Edinburgh – Day 1
I started my journey in Edinburgh. I took the train from London to Edinburgh, about 5 hours. It was a beautiful ride! I stayed in an Airbnb in Edinburgh’s New Town. It was such a lovely spot to wake up to in the morning- not to mention my host’s had two dogs! I arrived in the evening and spent my first night wandering the east end of town and Calton Hill. This Hill is a view point out over the city. On it, sit several monuments, an art gallery and a lot of tourists who make the steep walk up to enjoy the views and sunset. While I was there a young boy was playing the bagpipes as I gazed out across the city. It was the perfect way to be welcomed to Scotland!
After Calton Hill, I walked down to the Canongate neighborhood of Edinburgh’s old town. The buildings were several stories high and several hundred years old. I wandered a kirk yard (graveyard) and in and out of the closes (alleyways). I made my way west and up towards the train station to the heart of Edinburgh to Prince Street Gardens and the Sir Walter Scott Monument for sunset, noticing the juxtaposition of new and old from block to block as Edinburgh grew.
Above: An old city hall clock tower, headstone in the Kirk yard, building plaque from 1677 and high street pub. Below: Sir Walter Scott Monument and Prince Street Gardens
I started my first morning with a cup of coffee (duh!), across the street from my Airbnb, at Artisan Coffee and headed out to hit the Royal Mile before all the tourists. The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s history basically packed into a mile stretch. It starts at the top of a hill (actually an extinct volcano) with the Edinburgh Castle then turns into Old Town which was built in the 1500-1600s. Along the way there are tons of historical buildings, St Giles Cathedral, tiny alleys and closes.
Above: Making my way towards the Royal Mile passing Prince Street Gardens again.
Above and below: Edinburgh Castle– the birthplace of the city over 1300 years ago. The Castle has been home to Scottish kings and queens for centuries. Castle Rock and most of the bluffs and ridges of the city were built up by volcanos and then worn down by ice and water during the Ice Age. The hill and cliff sides seen today where the Castle stands are part of an extinct volcano.
Above: Royal Mile buildings, including 400 year old apartment “skyscrapers” (first photo) and the Writer’s Museum (3rd).
Above & Below: St Giles Cathedral inside and out details- St Giles is the flagship church of Scotland and a church has been on this site since 854. It’s considered very important as it houses many monuments, statues and stained glass windows dedicated to famous Scots in history. John Knox preached here during the Reformation.
Above: Looking up at Edinburgh Castle from Prince Street Gardens and near by St Cuthbert’s Parish kirk yard (below also).
Above: Cityscape and kirk yard
Greyfriars Church and Greyfriars Bobby were probably my most beloved spot in Edinburgh. Behind this pub and building stood Greyfriars Church and it’s kirk yard. The pub itself is dedicated to a dog – Bobby. The story goes like this: Bobby was a Terrier who belonged to John Gray, a night watchman for the Edinburgh Police. The two were inseparable for two years. In 1858, Gray died of tuberculosis. He was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby, who survived Gray by 14 years, is said to have spent the rest of his life sitting on his master’s grave. The gardener and keeper of Greyfriars tried on many occasions to evict Bobby, but in the end they took pity on him. He was built a shelter and was fed regularly. Bobby never spent a night away from his master’s grave . In 1872 Bobby died. He could not be buried within the cemetery itself since it is consecrated ground; instead he was buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from John Gray’s grave.
Just another proof that dog are THE BEST. I wandered this kirkyard for the better part of an hour and found it to be the most peaceful spot in the whole city (below).
Above: Water of Leith walkway- a beautiful river walk in the city but tucked away in the trees.
Below: Dean Village- historic neighborhood and buildings.
Above: City streets – on black and white 35mm film
Above: The Palace of Holyroodhouse entrance. Below: Ruined Holyrood Abbey – the site of Mary Queen of Scots coronation and marriage.
After lunch at Elephant House (where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter) I walked the rest of the Royal Mile and back into Canongate which ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I have to say I was pretty excited to tour the palace. I’m not much a tour person, I often do not go into historic sites because I don’t enjoy guided tours and loads of tourists. But! I do have an interest in Mary of Queen of Scots and decided that this would be my tour for the day. Holyroodhouse was the home, birthplace and coronation spot of Scotland’s Stuart Kings during their heyday, though most memorably for Mary Queen of Scots. Today it is one of Queen Elizabeth’s official residences and she usually stays in the palace once a year.
Day 3 – Leaving Edinburgh
Today was the day! I picked up my rental car and drove out of the city, headed north for the better part of 10 days. Driving off the car lot and into traffic and making my way out of Edinburgh was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life! Driving on the opposite side of the road took a little getting used to and the first day was certainly interesting. But, there was no time to even get that used to it before I made my first stop of the day!
Warning: Day 3 was Outlander indulgence day. It just so happened that the few Outlander related sites I wanted to see fell into the same day. So, if you’re not into Outlander (or god forbid, don’t know what it is- GO LOOK IT UP NOW), this might be boring- but still beautiful!
Hopetoun House was simply amazing! About 40 min outside of Edinburgh, this huge estate of 6500 acres sits along the Firth of Forth (ocean inlet) and sprawls out beyond what the eye can see. The main house dates back to the 17th century and has been in the same family since then. The family still occupies part of the home today and part of it is open to the public for tours and events. I found out about Hopetoun House when I was looking for information about Lallybroch from Outlander. It turns out, Lallybroch (in real life) is Midhope Castle and sits on this larger estate. Since a visit to Midhope Castle was included in the visit to the main estate, I decided to do both. To my surprise- the main house had plenty of Outlander significance too!
Above: Front exterior of Hopetoun House
Below: Exterior of Hopetoun House- used in Outlander as the Scottish home of the Duke of Sandringham in Season 1. One of the main rooms of the home that I toured was used in the scene when Claire (and then Jamie and Murtagh) visit the Duke in his home. This back yard was also used as the scene for the dual between the Duke and MacDonalds. Later in Season 3, one of the home’s bedrooms was used for a room in a French apartment for Mary. All very boring if you have no idea what I’m talking about- but all very exciting if you’re me and standing on the set of your favorite show!
But the best was yet to come….
Day 3 Continued: St Andrews
I had a little time in my day to make a spur of the moment decision about where to go. My stop for the night was only about an hour away so I had time to explore other areas. There were several choices but in the moment, St Andrew’s called my name. I drove a little out of my way East to get to this famous seaside town.
I arrived just as school was getting out and I believe it was also the first week or so of classes at the University. The town was bustling but still quaint and beautiful. I didn’t have a lot of time so I walked straight to the ruins of the Cathedral of St Andrew. Built in 1158, this cathedral was the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. It is believed to be the largest parish ever built in Scotland as well. It fell into ruin and disrepair in the 16th century during the Scottish Reformation when mass was outlawed. It was absolutely beautiful. Walking the grounds felt like stepping back in time, even with half the walls and roofs missing. It was so peaceful. Sun shinning, sea gulls singing, few tourists wandering the grounds. It was one of the first highlights of my trip. To finally really feel a sense of just how much history I was among. I’m so glad I made the quick stop at St Andrews and I would definitely go back and spend more time there!
Day 3 Final Destination: Falkland
I arrived in Falkland about an hour before sunset to the most quiet, peaceful town I have ever seen. I spent approximately 14 hours in this town and over the entire time saw less than 30 people. Talk about serene. Now you might be wondering why I chose this small, seemingly random village for my overnight. If you’re an Outlander fan, you might recognized the next few photos. Falkland is the set of 1950’s Inverness in Outlander (Season 1). Mrs. Baird’s Bed & Breakfast (pictured on the left in the photo below) and the town center are pretty iconic to the show. Conveniently enough, it was also just the right distance between Edinburgh and sites a bit further north that were a tad too far for the first day. So, I decided on a night in this little village and I can’t say enough how happy I am that I did.
After checking in to my little B&B, The Bruce Inn, I walked the town. Barely a soul to be found. It was dusk, slightly cool, birds chirping, church bells chiming- it was like a movie set after all. This was my first experience in a small Scottish village and I instantly wanted to move into one of the cottages and never leave! It was the perfect end to my Outlander indulgence day and the perfect start to small town Scottish life that I would see more of in a few days!
Day 4: Falkland to Inverness
I woke up early knowing exactly where I was headed at dawn. Dunnottar Castle.
One of the few castles on my lists of must sees. I had seen this castle through social media from a film photographer I follow. I fell in love. I knew I had to see it if it was remotely possible on my route and thank god it was!
The morning started in true Scottish fashion, windy, misty and cold! I arrived at the castle just after opening time (as planned)- I wanted to get shots of the sweeping setting without too many people in it. Since I was hoping to shoot mostly film, I didn’t want to photoshop those images later. I prefer to keep my film untouched- isn’t that the beauty of it? I was lucky enough that only a few people had made it there this early. Below are several photos taken on 35mm film of the castle and grounds. It was one of the most amazing settings I saw in Scotland. The iconic rolling hills and seaside cliffs. A 15th century castle perched on the edge. Sea gulls signing overhead, nothing but the sound of wind and water crashing. To think about how this place was built, how much history had lived here. To imagine it whole and thriving- this home on the side of the ocean. I did end up touring the castle grounds and reading about its history and purpose. I was one of 3 people inside the grounds at the time- it was like walking through time alone. Unfortunately, I had a lot of miles to cover this day trying to get to Inverness- otherwise I might have stayed here all day. Minus how cold it was!
Inverness, Loch Ness and Culloden Battlefield
Over the next two days I stayed in the Inverness area. Inverness wasn’t quite what I expected- a little bigger and modern than I had hoped- but still worth the visit. It’s a very walkable city with new shops and hip restaurants. My favorite part of Inverness was hands down the river walk. If I stayed there again I would choose a hotel on the river just a bit out the center and spend my time there. On my second night there I decided to walk the river path that took be out of the center and to two small little “islands” in the middle of the river that have been turned into a city park. That and an amazing meal at a local hot spot were my two highlights for Inverness!
Below: Inverness city center along the River Ness.
My day at Loch Ness was one of my favorites of the trip. I decided I didn’t want to go to the touristy part of the lake (the north side) and I didn’t want a boat tour. I just wanted a place to sit outside and enjoy a view and beer. I looked at the map and saw a little Inn on the South side of the lake. It didn’t have much information, just an Inn with a pub that was lakeside- that’s all I needed. So drove in that direction looking for my spot. What I found was Dores Inn– a tiny little Inn and local pub in a tiny town on the Southside of Loch Ness. I arrived right between breakfast and lunch to an empty pub and garden. Just a few people biking through who has stopped for a coffee. Since it wasn’t quite lunch time yet, I got a coffee and decided to sit outside in the back garden that over looked Loch Ness. It was so perfect. Morning sun, cool breeze, coffee in hand- watching the near by beach with a few walkers and dogs chasing sticks into the lake. They even had wifi so I Facetimed with my mom and shared the view with her! I could’ve stayed there forever. While at Dores Inn I meet two American guys who were brother in laws traveling together. They were also staying in Inverness, we talked for a while and then we made plans to have dinner together at a hip spot in Inverness that we’d all heard of. It turns out we did go to dinner that evening and it was super fun to meet new people and enjoy some company along my journey.
Also while at the lake, a group of Scottish women came to the pub with a pack of dogs who had just been swimming in the lake. Of course I had to go say hi! I ended up chatting with them for a while and telling one of them, Jackie, all about my plans for the North Coast 500 (the route I was about to start). She told me she was from a small town on the route, up pretty far north. She gave me suggestions for my stops and then told me that I should stop in her home town and go to a coffee shop and ask for the owner. “Tell her Jackie O sent you- she’ll know me!”. Sure enough- I did just that (more on it later). A few days later I did visit that coffee shop and chatted with local women who knew the same Jackie O (O’Brian). It was such a fun way to connect with people and feel like a local.
Above and below: The North side of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
Above (last photo) and below: South side of Loch Ness and Dores Inn
One of my favorite historical sites I visited in Scotland was Culloden Battlefield and visitor center. If you know anything about Culloden, it would sound strange to say this was a favorite spot like it was something really enjoyable- because it’s basically a grave yard. However, Culloden today was really one of the most interesting, enthralling, thought provoking, and serene places I visited in Scotland. I really can’t recommend the visitor center enough. The museum is laid out to depict the battle and events leading up to it from both sides (the British and the Jacobites). The history is fascinating. After (hopefully) learning about the place you’re about to see- A battlefield where the British Army fought the opposing Jacobite Army, an army of Scotsmen who wanted a different king to the thrown, where over 2000 men died in the span of about 45 min, where the course of history for Scotland was forever changed. The Battle of Culloden, it is said, marks the end of the Scottish clans. After the battle, in revenge, the British government (who occupied and ruled Scotland) outlawed almost every part of clan culture in hopes of preventing further uprisings. Gaelic (their language) was not allowed to be spoken, tartans (kilts and colors) could not be worn, gatherings over a certain size were banned, all weapons were confiscated, many estates were pillaged and dismantled. This historic battle in 1746 changed Scotland’s history forever.
The battlefield was eerie (Fun fact- just looked up the word eerie and it’s origin is Scottish- who knew?!). It was so quiet you could hear the rustle of the wind in the heather. It was the place with the thickest heather that I saw from my time in Scotland. The field was mapped out informatively so you could understand the battle, but left largely untouched. The photo below shows a stone with a clan name on it. There were maybe 20 or so of these stones, put here about 60 years ago to commemorate the clans who lost their lives in the battle- the only semblance of a head stone or burial for all of the fallen men.
It might sound like this should have been a creepy place but it really wasn’t. For me, it was so interesting, thought provoking and overwhelmingly peaceful. I walked the entire field and then sat for a while having a coffee looking out over it. My mind was mostly quiet while I was there, taking it all in. It really was one of my favorite sites I visited and I highly recommend it to anyone.
That wraps up my first week in Scotland!! Part 2 of my trip is coming soon! The North Coast 500!