This week we have felt the wrath of the high season in Scotland. The UK is generally expensive for food and drink but tourism in Scotland further compounds the expenditure. It’s not too surprising with such a short high season here, but some of the costs have been crazy. For example we paid almost AU$100 per night to stay in bunkbeds at a hostel dorm – that’s more expensive than the hostels in the centre of Sydney! We’ve fought back hard though and have managed to keep expenditure at a reasonable level. We’ve even resorted to “hotel picnic” dinners where we buy some cheap goods from Tesco and then sit on the end of the bed to eat. Even when we collected the rental car the lady at the counter was trying her best to convince me that the Fiat 500 we booked wasn’t suitable for the Highlands and that for an extra £10 per day we could have a Nissan Juke. Considering the Fiat 500 was only £130 for the 10 day car rental it was a fairly easy decision that we weren’t going to pay almost double for a larger car that uses more fuel. She tried with 2 other upgrade options before she realised that we weren’t going to budge.
One thing that the rental car lady didn’t realise is that I really wanted to try out a Fiat 500 because they were everywhere in Europe and looked like a funky small car. After a week of driving it we really like the Fiat and think it’s one of the best small cars we’ve rented on the trip. It’s definitely not as refined as the VW Polo but the steering is very precise and for a budget car it has a bunch of nice features. Some things have a cheap feel to them and the road noise boarders on deafening at 70mph but better tyres could fix that. The 1.2l zips along great and has averaged 4.8l/100kms so far and that includes winding up mountains and around lakes. Oh and it’s just so cute!
When we were planning our trip to Scotland we realised that accommodation in Edinburgh and Glasgow was crazy expensive on the weekend so we had to come up with an itinerary that put us in the cities midweek. We came up with a 10 day driving trip which covered the highlights of Scotland and finishes in Edinburgh on Sunday. So far it has worked out perfectly but we’ve been to so many places which makes writing this post quite a daunting task. I think I’ll just outline the key stops and hopefully Anna’s photos will fill the gaps.
Our first stop was Stirling which is best known for Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument. The battle of Bannockburn occurred close by in which Wallace played a pivotal role, so the monument is situated high on the hill as a reminder. The castle has an impressive and imposing position high on the hill overlooking Stirling and being noted as one of the top 3 castles in Scotland it was worth visiting. We realised that it was better value to buy a 7 day pass for Historic Scotland which gains us unlimited access to their 77 attractions so we bought that. In hindsight it’s been one of the best things we’ve done because we have visited so many sites that we probably wouldn’t have paid for individually. The castle itself was nice to see and it’s one of the better restored castles. They had exhibits on how the workers lived, not just the royalty, which was quite insightful. The conditions didn’t sound great but were far better than living on the other side of the castle walls. After the castle visit we walked through the old town and the town centre which were very pleasant. We probably would’ve stayed in Stirling for 3 nights because it was a central base but the university accommodation we were in had no availability for the Saturday night.
To make the most of the situation we decided to book the Saturday night in a hotel at Perth which allowed us to do the Fife coastal drive. Our first stop was the Falkirk Wheel which is a rotating boat lift that connects two canals. I remember seeing it in a documentary years ago so I really wanted to check it out. It’s very impressive from an engineering perspective as it only uses the same amount of power as 4 toasters when operating, but I thought that it looked bigger when I saw it on TV so I guess I felt a little is that it? Regardless, it cut out 11 locks that used to take half a day to navigate with the wheel only taking 5 minutes. The complex had a water activity section for kids that Anna found quite entertaining. From here we followed coastal route and stopped at Dunfermline Abbey and Aberdour castle. Whilst both of these are mostly ruins it was great to roam through the structures and see how people lived. I like it that everyone drank beer in those times because it was safer than drinking water. I was a little shocked to hear that even the kids drank it until I learned it was only 1% alcohol.
We rounded out our day at St. Andrews which is infamous for golf, namely for being the birthplace and home of the governing body for golf around the world. Well for the world excluding USA because nobody governs them. Not surprisingly there’s ample supply of courses in the area and we came across 2 middle aged gents who were there to play 7 different courses in a week. I feel sorry for their co-workers that have to listen to their post-vacation stories in the office (yawn). We strolled along the original golf course for a look and it was nice but nothing like the course I played at in Hawaii for Gerrit’s stag party. The remains of the St Andrews cathedral and castle were also included in our pass so we went for a look. It’s amazing how many times these castles change hands and it appears that it’s not normally by force. It’s far simpler to surround the castle and wait for them to run out of food. From here we headed to our Perth hotel which was originally military barracks at the airport. Nothing flash but cheap for a Saturday night.
With the peak weekend rates passed we headed to Glasgow via Doune Castle. We didn’t realise it but this was the castle that they filmed most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so they had some of the cast do the audioguide and they used some sound clips from the movie. It definitely made the visit more entertaining as the commentary was comedic and then referred to memorable scenes from the movie. We stayed in the Ibis Budget in Glasgow which was nice enough for the money but the area around the hotel was a bit ghetto. It wasn’t dangerous or anything it just looked a bit dilapidated and abandoned. It was right next to the Odeon cinemas so we decided to go see a movie which is our first for the trip. We saw The Suicide Squad but it was just another X-Men style movie – I’d give it a miss if you’re tempted.
Glasgow has quite a food scene, particularly in the West End district, so we planned to head to Kelvingrove Art Gallery on the way to dinner. We only had 45 minutes before closing but that was enough time to whip around for the highlights. The Spitfire WWII aircraft suspended from the ceiling was my favourite, but I’m sure Anna’s favourite was much more cultured. Being too early for dinner we popped into a pub for a pint of beer to kill some time. There was a soccer game on TV and the place was packed with everyone watching the game. We hid away in the corner to enjoy our drinks while we watched the Scots enjoy the game. I think the accent is great and during a game of soccer it gets even better. For once I’m doing the translating for Anna because she doesn’t understand the thicker accents.
One of the top rated things to do in Glasgow is the Tennent’s brewery tour which is an actual tour of the working brewery and bottling plant. We walked through the factory site and had the brewing process explained to us and then went into the keg, canning and bottling plant. It was great because we were able to see all the automated packaging systems in action which I find particularly interesting. Then at the end of the tour we went to the factory bar and sampled 5 different beers then had a pint of Tennent’s, which I also find particularly interesting. I’ve never had Tennent’s before but it’s quite similar to a Bavarian pilsner which is one of my favourites. They made a lemon infused beer which was Anna’s pick of the bunch.
From Glasgow we headed north to the Isle of Skye via Loch Lomond, Glencoe and Glenfinnan. Most of those names won’t mean much but basically there’s great lakeside scenery and Glenfinnan has the famous curved bridge that the Hogwarts Express travels over in the Harry Potter movies. Naturally we stopped there and walked the 1km to have a look but we didn’t time our visit right to see the steam train drive over. That’s one thing that we’ve been far better at this time around with the rental car, getting our steps up each day. Our accommodation for Isle of Skye was the expensive dorm I mentioned earlier, but it wasn’t even on the Isle itself, it was 1 hour away. It was the closest thing we could find that was somewhat reasonably priced. As we pulled into the carpark we saw 2 tour buses with “Wild and Sexy” written on the side, and at that point we realised that this was a party hostel. The tour groups did drink and party until the early hours but luckily they put us old boring folk in the far room away from the noise.
We learned that the reason accommodation on Isle of Skye is so hard to come by is because it’s definitely the most beautiful part of Scotland. Everywhere we drove it was coastline scenery competing against tall mountain ranges and beautiful valleys. It was one of those drives where you were tempted to stop at each pullover point for a photo. We also had sunshine all day long which definitely didn’t feel like Scotland but we weren’t complaining. Again we made a point of planning some walks to break up the day and get some exercise in. The only part Anna didn’t like was when the Lonely Planet guide recommended a 13 mile long scenic road but it was only 1 car wide with passing points scattered. It was a popular road but some people drove too quick for a road like that and we had a few jump on the brakes moments. It was down that road we came across the Volvo 4wd which proved what people say about Volvo drivers.
From the party hostel we headed north along Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle which again was partially ruined but this one was different because it was blown up by the last occupants. They blew it up because they didn’t want to be there, but didn’t want anyone else to try and use it as a stronghold. The place was packed and when we left the carpark was full and they were turning cars away. I think it’s so popular because it’s on Loch Ness so people come for the lake scenery and the castle. From here we headed to Inverness to buy lunch and then we drove to Fort George which is an 18th century headland fortress which was built to control northern Scotland. It’s still an active military base but it’s never been used for defence because it was built about 50 years too late. Our last stop for the day was at Dallas Dhu distillery which operated between 1899 and 1983 making single malt scotch whiskey. It’s now owned and maintained by Historic Scotland so it was included with our pass. The best part was the free tasting at the end. The second best part were the awesome 90’s audioguides.
Now we’re in Aviemore in the Highlands and we’ll make our way to Edinburgh on Sunday where we’ll hand back the mighty Fiat.
Bye for noo,
Fail of the Week
As we were making our way up the steep hill at Dumbarton Castle, Anna decided to pull out the polarizer attachment for her camera but as she removed it from her bag it flung out and landed on the other side of the railing. I offered to climb over and retrieve it but it was a steep drop so Anna wouldn’t let me. She said something about my mum killing her if I hurt myself. But finally my height (and long arms) came in handy. I was able to lie down and shuffle along to reach it.
Meal of the Week
In the West End of Glasgow we went to a diner where we had fried hagis balls, mac n’ cheese and pepperoni pizza. No drinks because we were on a budget, but the meal was delicious.