If you've been following me on instagram you will have noticed my daily story updates from the ever beautiful Scotland. This time I decided to go on a tour of the Highlands with the same tour company as before. I wanted to see new parts of the country I hadn't seen before. I knew the countryside of Scotland was exquisite, even in winter but I wasn't nearly prepared for the amazing sights and experience of its summer.
I've shared some of my best pictures on Facebook for friends but if you head over to my instagram there will be a couple there already and I will do a throwback over the next few weeks. You can also follow me if you want to be part of my new adventures including my ongoing immigration journey.
My mom and I decided this trip would be a perfect 60th birthday celebration and we set off from Johannesburg to London before arriving in Edinburgh on British Airways. I'd never flown this airline before and it was a little pricey being high season and very full, even booked 6 months ahead. However, it's worth every penny. I felt the boarding was smooth and the crew were prepared and welcoming. I've never been on such a polite flight. The bathrooms were spotless throughout the flight and the vegan meals were hot and really good. I will say though that every BA flight we booked was delayed in some way or another so there's that to consider when booking connecting flights through Heathrow.
We arrived in Edinburgh a couple days before the start of our official tour, giving us enough time to get settled and used to using a different currency etc. We caught the very convenient bus connecting the city to the airport and arrived in the center between the old town and new town. Our hostel was in the Grassmarket area which was a very long walk from the centre with heavy luggage. Next time I'll take an Uber from the airport.
We stayed in Budget Backpackers first which is a really great, modern hostel. We opted for a twin room and everything was clean and everything worked. We were also glad for the WiFi and the hot showers. The hostel is eco-conscious which is a huge plus and the bar downstairs has an awesome layout and very affordable, very fresh meals. From a vegetarian perspective I highly recommend this hostel. The location also means there's a ton of different options for food but also a LOT of sight-seeing of the old town.
The following morning we took a meander to the Royal Mile where we started a quick waling tour by Sandeman's, which I had also done in the winter of 2015. I liked it so much I had to get my mom to do their tour this time. Once we had completed our tour I decided to show my mom around some more of the old town and find the mall and Princes St to scout out any souvenirs we might want upon returning at the end of our tour.
The third day was the start of our tour with Haggis Adventures and we set off in a really nice coach to Fort Augustus for our first night at Morag's Lodge. On the way we made stops at the Forth Road Bridge, the pretty little village of Dunkeld and it's cathedral, the Tomatin Distillery for a whiskey tasting, the battlefield of Culloden and the Outlander inspiring Klava Cairns. Once we got to Fort Augustus we also took an evening boat cruise on the famous Loch Ness.
Day two we set off for the Ferry to Orkney, which happens to be where my family origins can be traced to in Scotland.
We stopped along the way to look at Jon O'Groats sign post. There was a little coffee shop here called Stacks which makes the best coffee cake ever! We also stopped at the Duncansby Lighthouse and then did a little walk of the Duncansby Heads and cliffs, which are full of birdlife, including puffins. This was where I could start to feel myself unwind and enjoy the gorgeous scenery around me.
The ferry was an hour across to Orkney and our amazing tour guide reversed the bus onboard to come along with us - very impressive. Our first stop in Orkney was at a very important historical sight called the Tomb of The Eagles. There was quite a lot of educational information about the kind of previous inhabitants of the islands and then a short hike along cliffs and fields to the burial site itself. The weather was absolutely perfect. The tomb itself is quite strange and for the brave, the way inside is to lie down on an oversized skateboard and pull yourself in. After this we headed to Kirkwall and Orcades Hostel for the night.
Day three we started with a visit to Skara Brae and Skaill House. The fog was still quite heavy with the early start on this side of Orkney. The site itself is really beautiful and includes a replica of what it might've looked like so that they can preserve the real site, which is a pictures only sort of place. Skaill house attached is the house where the person who found the sight all those years ago lived. It's quite grand and even has little cannons outside. These places are so worth the visit especially on a cooler morning. The pictures of the pathways come out eerie and "Bond-ish".
There was so much to do in Orkney in one day so we made a quick stop to Twatt Church for humorous pictures on a bench and then a visit to Stromness for lunch. We visited Yesnaby Cliffs for a good portion of the afternoon as it's quite the walk with the most beautiful view in Orkney. We took some great pictures and then we ventured on to the Rings of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness.
Orkney has a truly fascinating history and even though the tour was over for the day I decided to explore Kirkwall a little more at the St Magnus Cathedral and the Earl's Palace. Both of these are important to the way life formed in this town. It's really beautiful to be surrounded by such old structures and think about the type of people who lived during that time and what life might have looked like.
I returned to the hostel for dinner and some friends were up with two of the architects, Nathan and Gabriel from a nearby dig (One of the most exciting digs in the world right now). We had a long chat about some of the things in the world we'd all like to see and the work they were doing which was fascinating and exciting stuff for a history nerd like me.
There will be a part 2 of my tour of Scotland but there is just too much to squeeze into this one post. Meantime, if you're thinking about travelling check out my blogs about Preparing for Travel parts 1 & 2 for ways to make your next vacation almost stress-free.