Scotland

Scotland

image: munroesWith its untamed highlands and windswept islands, spectacular lochs and glens, intriguing cities and amazing hospitality, Scotland has much more to offer the tourist than the cliché of kilts and bagpipes. Although part of Great Britain, located north of England, Scotland is a land and culture completely contrasting and historically in conflict with its southern neighbours. Scotland have their own parliament and are constantly contemplating devolution from England.

It is worth making the long journey north if you are planning to discover the extremities that Great Britain has to offer. The ragged Highland landscape and isolated Hebrides islands can rarely be matched and its dramatic landscapes have proved perfect sets for epic films like Braveheart and Local Hero, and an inspiration for Romantic poets.
From the culture capital of Edinburgh (more akin to a little London) to the urban energy of Glasgow with more castles that you can imagine – Scotland is possibly the most beautiful and diverse land to visit in this pocket of Western Europe. Snow capped mountains, heather covered hills, graceful lochs and fresh water streams all make this one of the underrated natural gems of Europe.

Climate

Wrap up warm, the North of Scotland is one of the coldest countries in Europe (Edinburgh lies on the same latitude as Moscow) and substantially colder than England (around 5C cooler). Weather is extremely changeable in each area and even from hour to hour, and frequently rainy, even in the summer. However, as part of an island climate, the temperature is mild and you can expect a pleasant summer average of 20C. May – September are the warmest months to explore the great outdoors.

Dress

The culture is liberal and Edinburgh and Glasgow are funky, fashionable modern cities. If you’re planning on hiking in the highlands bring sufficient walking boots, layers in the autumn and winter and a good storm proof raincoat and water proof trousers are a backpack must, even if it looks like a sunny day. The traditional dress is tartan, a unique chequered wool material which has around 2500 patterns representing each clan (family), and is fashioned into caps, scarves, trousers and most famously kilts – heavy knee length skirts worn by both men and women. Highland dress is not worn everyday but is popular at weddings, special festivals and worn by some military regiments. Men wear their kilt with a sporran (pouch) and notoriously nothing underneath! (not advised for windy Highland hikes!) Tartan goods can be bought as souvenirs in Edinburgh, but head north for better, more authentic bargains.

Cash

The currency is as the rest of Great Britain, the Sterling Pound – although Britain is contemplating entering into the Euro in the near future.

£1 = 1.5 euro
£1 = 1.6 US Dollars

Check with your local currency exchange bureau for up to date conversion rates.

Edinburgh is a very expensive city to visit, however further north bargains in food and lodging are to be found. On the whole, alcohol and food costs are slightly cheaper than England but more expensive than continental Europe. A 2 star hotel in Edinburgh will set up back around $80 a night, a youth hostel in the highlands from around $15 a night for a dormitory style bed. A pint (half litre) of local beer will cost around $2 outside of the cities, and a hearty meal around $5 – 7.
Money can easily be exchanged in the cities and towns and cash machines for debit cards are readily available in towns – but stock up in cash before you head to the rural villages and outer Islands. Tipping at 10 – 15% is customary in most restaurants, but check as in some places they already add this to your bill.

Food

Scots are not typically known for their culinary excellence, although some fantastic foods are available here. Multicultural cuisine from Thai, India, Chinese & American can be found in the major cities. However, fresh seafood like mussels, salmon & cod are great dishes to eat near the lochs and coast. The Scots are one of the most unhealthy nations in Europe, and they love the chip shop where everything is deep fried – from cod to chips and even Mars Bars! Savoury porridge (oats boiled with milk and salt) is a typical hearty Scotch breakfast setting you up for the day (although eaten with jam and sugar is generally more palatable). A good cooked breakfast with bacon, egg, tomato, beans, mushroom and black pudding (blood sausage) similar to those found in England are top breakfast cuisine, with the Scots additions of a tattie (potato scone). Kippers (smoked herrings) are also traditional breakfast fayre as well as oat cakes (savoury biscuits).

Scots are famed for their hearty soups like Scotch Broth which contains barley, lentils and meat, and Cock-a-leekie, a thick creamy chicken and leek soup. Haggis is the national dish, sheep lungs, heart and liver boiled in a sheep’s stomach. It may not sound too tasty, but it is surprisingly delicious – rich and spicy served with mashed potato, turnips or just plain greasy chips! However, in the cities dieting isn’t completely out of the question, and healthy and veggie options do exist. The best meals are to be had in traditional style country pubs where many top Michelin chefs work.

People

The early Scots derived from the race of Celts – a tribal group who settled in Scotland and Ireland. A fiery race, their folklore is legendary and the spirit of the Celts has definitely rubbed off on the people of Scotland. Due to their chequered history with war and independence with England, some Scots can be somewhat aggressive in their attitude to the English. Call them ‘Brits’ at your peril! With only 5 million people, 1/11 of the population of England in an area half its size, it’s easy to escape everyone in parts of Scotland. The big cities are fairly multicultural with Chinese, Black and Asian areas but further north it’s pretty much pure breed Scots. Scotsmen are often stereotyped as mean drunks eager to get into a fight – although they love their drink, most Scots you meet in pubs and bars you’ll find to be friendly, humorous and good-natured.

Language

The national language is English, although you may be confused into thinking you’ve entered a foreign country as the regional accent is very strong, especially in Glasgow, and language derived from Celtic has created its own variant on English. Expression like “Ye Ken?” (You Know), or “Fit Like?” (How are You?), and “Ay” (Yes), and the confusing use of dinner to mean lunch ensures that you’re sure to be thoroughly confused!

Scottish Gaelic is still spoken by around 70,000 people in the Highlands and Hebridean Islands and also by immigrants in Nova Scotia (Canada). Gaelic TV, radio and newspapers can be found, upholding the traditional language.

Travel

Edinburgh is about 4 ½ hours by train from London and easily accessed, with frequent and comfortable services although expensive ($150 US return) if you buy your ticket at the station. Deals are to be had if you are able to book your ticket 1 -2 weeks in advance which can be done online or by phone. Car hire is probably the safest way to get around the Highlands, and roads are good quality. It is also possible to cycle and you can bring your bike on the train up to Fort William or Inverness, the start of the glorious Highlands. Scotland itself is served with great rail links, which are expensive when bought individually but a Scotland Travelpass is a good investment to be bought in Edinburgh or Glasgow if you’re planning to do a lot of travelling.

Recreation

Outdoor:
Skiing
 is starting to flourish in the Highlands around Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain near Fort WilliamSurfing, freezing cold but fun, is also enjoyed on the North Coast. However, hiking or ‘bagging‘ as the Scots call it, is Scotland’s main tourist leisure activity – with legendary hikes including the Southern Upland Way, the Fife Coastal Path and the Speyside Wayplus numerous inland tracks. Climbing Ben Nevis is a must experience for serious mountaineers.

Nightlife:
Go to Scotland for the boozing! As well as producing fine whiskies (known also as Scotch)
And great ales, unlike the 11pm curfew of the English, Scotland has European style licensing laws allowing you to go late night drinking. Edinburgh and Glasgow have great nightlife scenes for music, clubbing and theatre. Football culture is big, on the pitch and the pub, and the rivalry between Glasgow Celtic and Rangers is fierce.

Visas

Visas rules are the same as England, no visa is needed for EU citizens, 6 month travel visas are readily available for Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian citizens. Check with your local British embassy for details.

Health

Scotland is a fantastically safe and healthy place to visit. The tap water is fresh and drinkable, the air good quality and there are virtually no contagious diseases. Food and Mouth disease has been a problem during 2001, however this cannot be contracted to humans so should not restrict your movements.

Scotland

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