Ten Things to Love About Traveling in Scotland….

Time to ‘fess up: For the past two weeks, I’ve been traveling in Scotland. In deference to everybody who wasn’t with me, I ought to say the weather was awful, the scenery dreary, and not a kilt to be seen. Alas, the weather was wonderful, the sights were marvelous, and the kilts very much in evidence.

At Glencoe, enduring the awful weather and the dreary scenery...

At Glencoe, enduring the awful weather and the dreary scenery…

I had the time of my life, and I’m indebted to a reader–waves at Carol who plays the harps–for suggesting I sign up for a Beltane Tours trip around Scotland. The tours are hosted by Jim and Susie Malcolm, a Scottish couple of traditional music persuasion. I’m not what I’d call enthusiastic about traditional music (folk music), but it’s accessible stuff (think Peter, Paul and Mary), so it can be enjoyed by anybody–including me.

We sang our way around Scotland, had a wee dram now and then, listened to terrific live performances, and saw more sights than ought to fit into any two weeks. Some highlights:

1) Getting a hug VERY FIRST THING from Jim, before he even knew who I was (or whether I was for sure with the tour?).

Scottish Tablet (and yes, it comes in whiskey flavor)

Scottish Tablet (and yes, it comes in whiskey flavor)

2) VERY SECOND THING having a lunch of sticky toffee pudding and breakfast whiskey. What a brilliant concept–breakfast whiskey.

3) Hearing Susie sing “Loch Necessarily So” as we toodled along Loch Ness.

4) Scenery out every window such as you usually only see on calendars. EVERY window.

5) Tablet. This is like fudge dipped in frosting with an extra helping of sugar. If those old boys who fought for independence at Culloden had had tablet in their rations, the Government troops would never have prevailed.

6) Learning about whiskey. Jim is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic ambassador for this most famous Scottish export, and you betcha the heroes in my books will appreciate the education I got. For me, the wee dram of the day was, of course, purely an exercise in selfless devotion to literary accuracy. (Whiskey goes well with tablet, though–I’ll admit that much.)

themusicroom7) The other people on the tour were uniformly good company. Not a whiner in the bunch–maybe the whiskey helped with morale? Maybe singing and dancing in the music room at Murthly Castle and being piped home by the laird of the castle helped?

8) Learning Scottish history. The tale is not happy, but it is ultimately triumphant. Scotland today is poised to soar. The country has access to tremendous stores of North Sea oil, and yet has Tossing the Caberchosen to make 100 percent reliance on renewable energy sources its goal. Scotland has huge stores of fresh water, one third of Europe’s wind, and–I’m convinced–a great share of its common sense.

9) Watching the town of Braemar literally close up shop to see the Queen drive by. We went to the Royal Highland Games, where the big guys in kilts toss the telephone poles around. Her Royal Majesty, Prince Phillip, and Prince Charles also dropped in. The shopkeepers all slapped a “back in five minutes” on their doors, left their wares completely unattended (on the sidewalks, even), and waved at the Sovereign as she tooled past. Can you imagine your main street being THAT safe?

Loch Ness and Castle Urquhart10) Knowing that many seeds were planted in my imagination. These seeds will germinate and blossom for years to come. Right now, my first priority is figuring out how to get Jim’s description of a Highland charge–“running hairy-ballocks naked down the hill”–into some piece of dialogue….

I’ll be posting more about this trip, I’m sure. Have you ever had a dream vacation? What would your dream vacation be? C’mon–your DREAM vacation. To one commenter, I’ll send some Scottish tablet.



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62 comments on “Ten Things to Love About Traveling in Scotland….

  1. Ah, Glencoe, the place where Friday the 13th originated, at least according to the Scots… I loved my trip there and am constantly planning my trip back to Scotland. Loved the Highlands!

    • Heather, my grandma’s people are MacDonalds, and I cannot imagine what the place was like in the depths of winter…. another incident of betrayal and misery, and the sad thing is, it’s another incident of Scot turned against Scot, too. Friday the 13th, indeed.

  2. You have already lived me dream vacation. My ancestors came over from Scotland, as well as Ireland, Wales & England. I am 62 years old and have told my children, that one of these days, dear old mom is going to find her way to the British Isles, most especially, Scotland!! I am so jealous!

    • Sharon, I’ll be posting more about this trip, both here and one Facebook. It wasn’t that expensive, and we saw EVERYTHING. It wasn’t a tour that required much athleticism, either. Walking some each day was about the extent of it, and singing, if you were inclined. The link to the Beltane Tours site if here: http://bit.ly/17zSIX2

  3. I have to admit that my dream vacation would take me back to Scotland. I was there once, doing a Macbackpacker’s tour for a week when I studied abroad. I wanted to stay and never leave. I didn’t get a chance to go to Skye or see the faerie pools there, so I would love to take a dream vacation back…spend a month or three there with my sweetheart, just enjoying Scotland. I loved it, I loved the people, and I have yet to get to Halliday Tea House which my father visited and I must go! (We’re Hallidays!)

    • You must! Several people in the group dodged off for side trips–to go fishing, to hike. The tour is set up so the only requirement is that you show up when the bus leaves each morning, and we stayed a couple days at Edinburgh, Dunkeld (my fave), and on Mull. If I’d had all the time in the world, I could not have planned a better itinerary myself.

  4. Grace your two weeks in Scotland sounds like my dream vacation, minus the whiskey though as I can’t drink, it will mess with my arthritis medicines if I do. I would so love to see the Queen, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles, and to watch the Royal Highland Games would be absolutely awesome. That caber, telephone pole as you called it, toss is something I find absolutely fascinating. I’d also love to see an actual Scottish Broadsword as I’ve read that they are extremely heavy and most of the time required both hands to wield in battle. As always I loved reading your blog and if I’m lucky enough to win the tablet I may even try a little Scottish Whisky to go along with it.

    • Molly, we did see some claymores, because Edinburgh Castle is on the tour, which also includes the Honours of Scotland. They went missing for decades, and then Sir Walter Scott got permission to go looking for them in anticipation of King George IV’s visit in 1822. He found them mouldering in an old chest…. the sight of them in gleaming splendor in the Castle brought a tear to many an eye.

  5. My dream is to go back to Ireland. If I could swing through Scotland and visit my friend in Norway it would be perfect. I went to Ireland for work a couple of times. I bought so many sweaters or jumpers as they are called, I had to slip through to the duty free shop and buy an extra suitcase so I could check all my loot on the plane. I love the land and people. I’d love to wander around for a couple of weeks and just absorb the atmosphere.

    • Laurel, as best we can tell, Scotland was settled by Irish immigrants in the fifth century, and there’s even a version of Scottish spoken in Ulster to this day. I’ve plenty of Irish on my family tree, and love the musicality of Ireland… and the sweaters. Now if only they had tablet.

  6. Sounds like you had a wonderful time!!There are so many places I would still love to see. Since we’re talking dream vacation, I am going to say a cruise that stops in many different ports.

  7. I’ve lived my dream vacation in 2007 when my husband and I took 14 days to travel through England, Scotland and Wales. I absolutely love all of those countries, but especially Scotland because that’s where my ancestors came from in a small village called Moffat, which is was changed to Morfitt here in the US.

    We actually drove through the village while there, so it was even more special. And I have to agree, the whiskey is fine, even for someone who doesn’t drink.

    • The whiskey, the music, the scenery, the accents, the vibrance, the fun… I hadn’t appreciated the pervasiveness of a sense of humor there that’s sly, merry, and funny as hell.

      Police Officer to Tour Guide: To get to the entrance, you make a right, then a left, and if anybody stops you, tell them you talked to me and I told you to go that way.

      Tour Guide: And if I get a ticket, will telling the judge I talked to you stand up for me in court?

      Police Officer: Laddie, if you have things standing up for you in court, you’ve a greater problem than a traffic citation.

      Just another exchange in Scotland.

  8. You’ll think I’m a copycat, but I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland. My hubby has MacDougals on his side and I can claim Scots/Irish Orange men (which I believe means we were not northern Catholics, but southern Protestants). I would love to go to a real Highland Games. I’ve seen caber tossing on a much smaller scale in Michigan. Count me as slightly jealous. LOL

    • In summer, you can go to a Highland Games practically any weekend in Scotland, and there’s something for everybody–dancing, hill racing, singing, and much socializing. At Braemar, there’s one field and usually four events going on that field at once. Much, much fun, and we got a tutorial on caber tossing from a former world champ…. not for the faint of brawn!

  9. I actually have THREE dream vacations. Two are a result of reading books years ago. One is because of family heritage.

    My first dream vacation would be to travel out West, following the path of so many of Zane Grey novels that I read voraciously while pregnant with our fourth child in 1990. His novels created such a magnificent scenery in my mind while on bedrest that I’d love to actually see it with my own eyes and compare what I remember from his novels with the real view.

    The second dream vacation is one I would have to share with my oldest daughter who introduced me to L. M. Montgomery years ago when she was a young girl. We fell in love with Prince Edward Island, eastern Canada, and Nova Scotia. We plotted and dreamed of riding the sleeper trains from Toronto to Quebec to Prince Edward Island. I would *love* to take her with me now. This particular dream is over twenty years old. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My third dream vacation stems from a high school American History project for the Social Science Fair that I did in January of 1970 when I researched my family tree by interviewing elderly family members about their roots and what they remembered of our family. This was well before the mini-series “Roots” was televised.

    As a result of this project I learned that my family went back multiple generations here in Georgia, well into the 1700’s. We are strongly Scot and Irish, specifically Black Irish. It has always been a dream of mine that I could find some trail of our ancestors across the pond and actually visit where they came from.

    I also learned that my great-grandmother was a direct result of General Sherman’s March to the Sea when his army besieged Atlanta during the War Between the States and then blazed a devastating path to the sea, dismantling most of the rail lines along the way. When I was born, I was the last granddaughter of her five daughters, and they insisted that I be named after her, Mary Lee Bagwell. My dad insisted that I also have my mother’s name, Patricia. So my great-grandmother’s name was all run together into one name: Merrilee. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Way too much information, I know, but you did ask! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Merrilee, with a BACKLOG of vacations to take, I’d say you’d best be planning at least the most accessible one. I love driving around out west–it’s NOT like driving back east. Start with Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, drive I-70 between Denver and Grand Junction, stay in some vintage hotels… you can do this, and you will enjoy the planning as much as the travel itself.

  10. It sounds like you had a marvelous time and I am so glad you got to visit Scotland again and get more story ideas.

    I have few dream vacations so I will combine a couple and say I would love to do a New England trip and then head over to Prince Edward Island. The last place is somewhere I have wanted to visit since I was a young girl first reading Anne of Green Gables. If I could I would bring my mom along and maybe my husband and father,too. Perhaps the in-laws could watch the boys, because I don’t want to bring the kids along. That’s not too much to ask, right?

    • There were no kids in our travel group, and though I do love the children, it helped us all be relaxed and on holiday. Though Scotland is kid friendly and notably dog friendly, too. Dogs everywhere, and all well behaved.

  11. โ€running hairy-ballocks naked down the hillโ€

    LOL, yes, PLEASE find a way to put that in one of your books, haha.

    My dream vacation would be to visit all the places in New Zealand where Lord of the Rings was filmed. I remember watching behind the scenes extras of Peter Jackson scouting out places to film and was shocked to see that he really didn’t have to add much to the scenery to make it look so beautiful.

    • The people I’ve talked to who’ve been to New Zealand uniformly loved it and want to go back. I want to go there because many consider it, and the Maori culture, the birthplace of restorative justice… Then too, the Maori are the only native people who ever defeated the British army, and they invented trench warfare to do it.

  12. I’ve mentally been in Scotland for weeks as I watch the unfolding of Diana Ganaldon’s Outlander story being cast and prepping for the filming of the TV series next year. As much as I love Diana’s books, I would prefer to be in Victorian Scotland with you. I would love to be in Scotland to immerse myself in culture. Just in case I’ll skip the standing stones, particularly around Beltane!

    • We went to Clava Cairns, which is about ten minutes from Culloden Battlefield (went there too), and SAW the split rock where Outlander begins. I have so many pictures… I was probably the most awestruck of anybody in the group at the sight of that rock, but now it’s not so very tall, and no longer stands straight.

  13. I went to Italy for my honeymoon and really loved it. I studied Latin in high school so I really enjoyed seeing all the places that the books talk about!

    • May, Eloisa James is planning a seminar in Tuscany on writing romance. The set up is you have study/lecture morning and evening, and the afternoon to “work on your books.” There will be many book worked on driving around Tuscany, sipping wine, and basking in the loveliness, I’m sure!

  14. You and I talked about my Scotland trip at the ATLANTA event. The best week for me, touring all over with a very small group, locally lead. I want to go again, and spend a couple of weeks when the Heather is in bloom. Hubby feels more at home in Ireland, but Scotland just wrapped me up in “welcome home” feelings. My paternal family is Irish “McNulty” (my grandmother had a beautiful brough) my maternal line Scottish “Ross”. Love your pictures, keep posting ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I hated to leave Scotland. Susie gave me a hug, bundled me into the cab for Waverly Station, and I was bawling before we turned out of the hotel driveway. Did not want to travel south, did not want to trade the English accent for the Scots burr, did not want to get on the plane for home. Le SIGH.

  15. Just one day’s worth of posts about your trip has convinced me I’ll need more than weeks to experience Scotland the way I desire. Glad you have more to share and that we’ll eventually reap the benefits in your stories.

    • I feel the same way, Martie. I’d like to stay for months, and move every month to a different region. All it will take is several clones of me, a small fortune, and a couple years planning. No problem!

  16. Honestly, I dream of going to Scotland. Thank you for posting about Beltane Tours. I have been thinking about planning a trip there and would love to check into their group. Hopefully sooner rather than later

    • The tour is an excellent all around introduction to Scotland, Sheryl. If you’re not into the music, you just peel out of formation after dinner and toddle off to bed. I kept thinking, “tonight I turn in early!” But I’d find myself staying for “just one more number,” EVERY night. Oh, I could gush… Cannot say enough wonderful things about this tour group. I think their June trip might be full, but next fall’s trip probably has openings.

  17. Oh Grace, Any vacation taken with you =D. You make me laugh and my soul sings when I read your writing. I laughed out loud reading your blog post :-). Seriously, I’d adore to visit all the fabulous castles and cathedrals I saw pictures of in my History Of Western Art class in college. My eyes got big and my heart filled with the flying buttresses, towering arch columns and gilded ballrooms I saw from those slides in the auditorium. My tour would be concluded in Scotland standing on the bluffs looking out over the rugged crags.

    I adored Once Upon A Tartan and it was even better than The Bridegroom Wore Plaid. Thank you!

    • Glad you’re enjoying the books! Interestingly to me, our first stop was Roslyn Chapel, where Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code ends up, and another stop was Clava Cairns, were Outlander starts. Cool!

  18. Grace, I lived my dream vacation last June. I visited, during 2 weeks, the Highlands of Scotland, my trip was amazing!
    If I could, I would return without hesitation but for at least three weeks. Loved the countryside, the people were charming and the landscape breathtaking. I am still nostalgic about beautiful Scotland!

  19. What a beautiful place to go! Unfortunately, I’ve never been outside the States, but my dream vacation is definitely England and the South of France. I want to get immersed in the literary culture of England, and the beauty of France! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I hope you get to take that trip and sooner rather than later. If Scotland is brimming with castles, England certainly has the literary landmarks. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to Wordsworth’s home when I passed through the Lake District a few years ago. ARGH-squared! I’ll just have to get back to Cumbria, now, won’t I?

    • So start planning, Margs. Make a list of the places you’d visit, look them up on the internet. Try to figure out what order you’d see them in, check out the airfares in the off seasons… I found the Beltane Tour because I went on Facebook and asked my readers, “Does anybody have an vacation suggestions?” and began following up on the responses.

      You deserve this trip, lady.

  20. I don’t know as I’ve ever had a dream vacation, however, visiting my beloved Great Lakes annually comes close. I need to take longer trips, though! My dream vacation would be to see Jane Austen’s England someday.

  21. I have wanted to go to Scotland for quite a few yrs. I am reading on your site all your comments on your trip. My husband told me to plan my trip for Aug 2014. I want to see the bagpipes that gather in Edinburg in Aug. Also want to go to the northern area by where the battle was around the 16th century. I love reading books in that era. Can’t wait for the third book in the MacGregor Series. I will check into the tour you were on.

    Love your books

    Debby Jones

    • Debbie, I traveled with Jim and Susie Malcolm’s Beltane Tours, which should come up in your search queue if you google Jim Malcolm tour Scotland. For a first visit, I’d discourage you from doing Edinburgh in August, or “Festival.” You can hardly move through the streets its so crowded, and Edinburgh Castle is obscured with a temporary stadium so the promenade can be used for all the exhibitions and competitions. The whole city breathes a sigh of relief when Festival is over.

    • Ellie, I’ve heard that Turkey is the new Riviera for Northern Europe. It’s beautiful, affordable, safe, and the Turks are gracious and attentive hosts.

      Why not give it a try and report back to the rest of us? Scotland is on the way to Turkey, right?

      • I would love to go and report back. My kids, however, are angling for a cruise. Their favorite place to eat is at Golden Corral, which I call the trough. The all-you-can-eat on a cruise is a major draw for them. I say quality over quantity. And Scotland would be preferable. Or Turkey ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. What a lovely post. It brings back great memories of the visit Hubby and I had to Edinburgh a few years ago. We’ve been to several other parts of Europe. A dream vacation for me would include a European trip with stops in London, the Loire Valley in France, Germany (especially the Black Forest region where our ancestors came from) Austria, Italy and Greece. There’s just so much we’d like to do!

    • And we’re burning daylight! I want to see Waterloo Battlefield–we’re coming on the 200th anniversary of the battle in a couple years. I want to see a lot more of the UK, attend the German romance reader’s conference in Berlin, join Eloisa James for her romance writers seminar in Tuscany…. so much fun, so little time!

  23. Wow! Your trip looks amazing! My dream vacation is similar to what you just had! My husband and I want to spend our 10th anniversary traveling England, Scotland and Ireland. (I REALLY WANT TO SEE MY HUSBAND IN A KILT) It sounds like you had a trip to remember! Looking forward to reading more about your trip!

  24. Hi Grace, I had a dream trip to Scotland in 2011 and know exactly what you’re saying and feeling. It’s a very magical place. The borders of Scotland are beautiful, a different beauty to that of the highlands. It’s a place i’d very much love to call home. There’s so much to learn and discover there. You can feel those who have gone before us, the history and romance of it, the courage and amazing fortitude of the people who lived loved and died there. The incredible love of their country and their courage and commitment to fight for what they believed in. Truly inspirational.I’m so glad you’re enjoying it and i’m looking forward to your books that will spring from your experience and imagination , the feelings and inspiration one gets from the travels and inspiration of Scotland. I for one hope to get back there soon, but meanwhile I love reading your books, I thoroughly enjoy them and can’t wait to see what’s next. Thank you for your wonderful gift of bringing your characters to life and the enjoyment you bring to those of us who are fortunate enough to have discovered your talent of writing. May God bless you. All the very best to you.


    • Thank you for all of those kind and encouraging words. This is my third trip to Scotland, and each one has been better than the last. My next goal is a few months in county, writing, writing, writing…

  25. As an avid reader of the Georgian, Regency and Victorian historicals, you would think that my dream trip would be the top of my list. Alas, it is not so. That would be #2 on my list.

    For me the ultimate trip would be to cruise around Africa. Starting in Egypt adn the historical city of Alexandria. From there to Cairo to cruise down the Nile to see the Pyramids and Giza. Soaking up the history and mythology of the Pharos. Then I’d travel south to Kenya and see the vast savana and volunteer some time at the David Sheldrake Wildlife Trust – a haven for baby elephants and rhinos left orphaned by the black market trade in ivory. Then to the coast to Haller Park (where Mzee the trtoise adopted Owen the hippo) and down to Tanzania and a visit to Olduvai Gorge and see “the cradle of man” and visit the camp where the Leakeys discovered Lucy.

    Then it would be east to Madagascar and see the interesting wildlife. From there I’d head back to the mainland and follow Stanley’s route to find Livingstone – a trek from the coast through Tanzania to Ujiji on the coast of Lake Victoria. Then south to see Victoria Falls on my way to Botswana. I would linger in Botswana for a while. Take in the sights of the massive herds of zebra and wilderbeast. Catch sight of the Big 5 and enjoy the contrasts of dry savana and lush, verdent delta. Then off to the coast of South Africa to see the great white sharks. Maybe gather my nerve to get in a cage in the water with them!

    Then west to Namibia and the Cheetah Conservation fund. Not just to visit, but to work and learn what can be done to help save these amazing and gentle big cats. Then off into the Kalahari to meet the San Bushman – an amazing indiginous people who have much wisdom to impart on anyone who will listen.

    Then off to the Congo to see the jungle and the pygmy elephants and if I’m lucky, the Pygmy people. A shy elusive culture that live deep in the forests. Then I’d skip north to Morocco and Marrakesh. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to trek across even a tiny part of the Sahara, but I’d at least like to go and look across it. Then to Casablanca for purely romantic reasons (who doesn’t love that movie?) and then off to Gibralter before I head back home.

    I’ve planned it out. It will take six entire weeks and a boatload of money. One of these days when I win the lottery I will take this trip…

    • Six WEEKS? That has to be at least six months, if not six YEARS of racketing about. I dearly hope you get to undertake this journey, and that you keep a journal of your travels, and let us know how reality compared with the dream.

  26. My husband and I visited Hawaii when we were first married. We had a marvelous time in paradise, beautiful weather, marvelous food and drink and the scenery was breathtaking.

    I would love to visit Ireland. I remember my Grandmother’s stories of her village, friends and family. I’d like to see it for myself someday.

    Looking forward to reading about your adventures.

  27. Having Scottish heritage and hearing about your trip, brought great feelings about my grandfather. Though I never knew him, the stories I heard were very much like you described “his” home. Thank you for bring it to life for me again.

    • My Scottish grandfather was one of thirteen, and left home at the age of thirteen to make his way in the world. He ended up as the town doctor in Leadville, CO, during the height of the silver boom, and my, the stories my grandma could tell.

      Leadville is at 10,000 feet. I cannot imagine what January house calls were like back in the day…

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