Saturday, November 06, 2010

How to enjoy Scotland, on the cheap, off season, without a car, and travelling alone.

This is an unedited email from a lady who descibes herself as a 'semi-retired divorcee, who teaches piano and Celtic harp'...

"I wanted to thank you for helping me organize my dream-trip to Scotland, which turned out just fabulously.  I must have walked 6 miles or so on many days, but also many were spent just gazing out of train or bus windows at the intense beauty of the landscape.  Yes, I had to forego the Shetland Islands (next time!), but in two weeks I covered pretty much every other bit of ground I'd planned on.  Landing in Aberdeen, I at once took the train to Inverness, where I spent 4 nights.  I was able to visit Cawdor Castle, which was having an artisanal food festival on the grounds, both were lovely.  I toured Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle, as well as the "Nessie" museum with "The Jacobite," quite reasonable and fantastic guidance, lots of local lore.  I walked along the River Ness and got into the rhythms of the people a bit, noticing how they are after work, fishing and swimming their ubiquitous dogs.  I grew to love the border collies which were on trains and ferries, so smart they are!  Visited the Archival Center for some free genealogy, and shopped at House of Fraser, shipping three boxes home in the end, so I would not grow heavy with my tiny rolling suitcase.  How did I get by "on the cheap?"  Well, eating a huge breakfast (nearly always inc., both at B&Bs and in the wonderful hostels you have), sometimes even kippers (now there IS a hearty breakfast), and carrying some oatcakes during the day, going to a pub for an ale and the "special" around 4 or 5, thus, black pudding, haggis, neaps & tatties, etc.  Allowing someone to buy a local whiskey for me (!) 

To make a long story short:  I then went to Orkney, saw the seals, visited Kirkwall and the Cathedral of St Magnus, walked all over Skara Brae & the Ring of Brognar since my tour didn't go, as the ferry from John O'Groats didn't run that day!  Got down to Skye, worshiped in the Presbyterian Church there with the old Scottish Psalter on a Tues. night, took a boat trip out to see the Sea Eagles and the salmon farms, the huge Cuillen mountains, and thence to Sleat, meeting a nice Professor of Gaelic at a Pub there.  I must take a crash course in Gaelic someday!  There was a castle ruin there I saw, and don't know which one now, in Sleat near a hotel.  Thence from Stromness all the way down through Mull to Iona, where the hostel is really lovely, on the north shore, and then made my way to Arran and visited the Arran Heritage Museum, truly marvelous place, thence to Ayr to embrace Robbie Burns for a day, thence to Edinburgh for 2 nights, walking the Royal Miles, seeing the Castle and Holyrood, as well as lingering in the (free!) Museum of Scotland, always shopping a bit here and there to delight my children this Christmas and provide small souvenirs for my friends.  I spent a lot on postcards, and it took 35 days for my parcel posted from Kyle an Lochalsch to get home!

So, a whirlwind tour of two weeks, meeting many friendly and helpful people, and not spending really as much as I anticipated.  The B&Bs were roughly 30-40 pounds, and the hostels, some nicer than others, but none crowded in late September, I often had a "private" room, especially as I am older and they simply gave me a room that was not filled with others, hostels were only 15 pounds, and one often found a delicious salad left behind, or someone anxious to kill the bottle of whiskey in the evening, since they were flying out the next day, etc. The great room at Iona was simply lovely at the hostel.  Yes, you had to walk a couple of miles to get there, but worth it!  A Danish Pastor awaiting his "weeklong adventure" in the abbey, several other Englishmen and Scotsmen & women, gathering around the solid wood table adorned with candle light, as we drank and solved all the problems of the world...........

So, thanks for helping me organize my trip.  Next time, I will bring my daughter, and we will be sure to go pony trekking in Arran and Shetland, before I get too old to do this!"

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