Scotland Diaries: Doune It Right

Tuesday, August 20

Soundtrack: “Take Me Out” Franz Ferdinand

Itinerary:

  • breakfast in Inverness
  • explore Doune Castle
  • drive to Edinburgh
  • ghost tour of the catacombs

Inverness
After a night of wine hiking and campfire, my body was calling for a big, hearty breakfast. We drove into town for a traditional Scottish fry up at the Rendezvous Cafe (fun fact: the Beatles performed there in 1960). Our breakfast included: a fried egg, bacon, link sausage, lorne sausage,  Stornoway black pudding, haggis, tatty scone, baked beans, mushrooms, sliced tomato, and toast. I tried haggis for the first time and enjoyed it. It has a savory flavor that Anita described perfectly: “It tastes like Thanksgiving.”

nom nom nom

Doune Castle
The drive to Doune took us through  beautiful Caingorms National Park (and thankfully, it had wider roads than Loch Lomond & The Trossachs). There’s so many places in Scotland that I want to return to for camping.

Doune Castle was originally built in the 13th century, and rebuilt a century later after it was damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence. In contemporary times, it’s served as a shooting location for Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones (used as Winterfell in the pilot episode), and Outlander (Castle Leoch). These are three of my FAVORITES, so we were psyched for the tour. I have a lifelong fascination with castles, likely due to my love of historical fiction and fantasy novels, and this documentary that we watched multiple times in high school World Civ.

A Stark must always be in Winterfell

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone

The self-guided tour features audio tracks recorded by Terry Jones and Sam Heughan, which is a fun touch. Strolling around a castle courtyard with Jamie Fraser’s voice murmuring in your ear is about as good as it gets. The gift shop even features an Outlander-themed selfie station, complete with Claire’s costumes that can be slipped on over your clothing.

Edinburgh
We arrived in the city around mid-afternoon. Being in town during the last week of Fringe meant that the city was packed with people, but it also added a buzz of energy to the atmosphere. Street performers were ubiquitous, and we stopped multiple times to take in a song, drum line, or puppet show. I turned a corner and was awestruck by my first glimpse of Edinburgh Castle looming atop a hill above the city.

A troupe of drummers performers near Edinburgh Castle

After dinner at BABA, an excellent Mediterranean restaurant, we grabbed a few pints at a bar that featured haggis bombs (Irn-Bru with a shot of Jägermeister). From there, we walked to the Old Town area near St. Giles Cathedral and Mercat Cross, the starting point of our ghost tour. As twilight set in, the golden lighting made the city even look more storybook magical. A gothic tower twisted against the backdrop of blue sky, which at first glance looks like the home of a Disney villainess (in actuality, it’s Scott Monument, a Victorian-era spire honoring Sir Walter Scott). I’d only been in Edinburgh for a few hours and I was completely enchanted by this place.

Scott Monument

On High Street, we reached peak Fringe Fest crowds, and dodged people passing out fliers for their shows while navigating the packed cobblestone roads. The ghost tour took us through the alleys and closes of Old Town, and our guide shared informative stories about life in Edinburgh in the late 1700s. Eventually, she led us underground into the catacombs beneath the city, lit solely by candlelight. The air in the vaults was thick and humid, and we listened to true stories about murderers, bodysnatchers, and ghostly encounters.

inside the Edinburgh Vaults

To cap off the night, we had a few cocktails at a speakeasy hidden beneath a vintage barber shop. An elaborate menu noted the techniques used to create their cocktails, including Sous vide, fat washing, and centrifuge. We stayed until the bar staff announced last call, then walked back to our Airbnb, giddy on handcrafted cocktails and love for Edinburgh.

Scotland Diaries: a Day in the Highlands

Monday, Aug. 19

Soundtrack: “Forests and Sands” Camera Obscura

Itinerary:

  • horseback riding in the Highlands hiking near Plodda Falls
  • look for the Loch Ness Monster
  • high tea at The Loch Ness Country House
  • glamping in Inverness

The Highlands
One of the first lessons we learned in the Highlands was to add 30-40 minutes onto all our driving times previously estimated from our ignorant positions in front of Google Maps back home. We had booked a horseback riding tour through the Highlands, supposedly 90 minutes from Spean Bridge. However, the final stretch took us on a single-lane winding road in and out of a valley, with multiple byway stops in order to let oncoming vehicles pass. By the time we reached the stable, we were nearly an hour late and our group had left without us. Even the sheep on the stable grounds ran away from us before we could pet them. Our disappointment was palpable. But sometimes, things are just not meant to be, so we pivoted to a new plan: hiking to Plodda Falls.

Plodda Falls

The hike turned out to be the perfect thing to lift our spirits. A short walk from the trailhead led us to the top of the falls, and we ventured out onto a wooden bridge over 40 meters (131 feet) above the riverbed. Among the treetops, we had a fantastic view of the forest all around us. I’m telling you, the greens in Scotland are unreal–leaves, lichen, and moss saturated with chlorophyll and rain and fairy magic probably, to the point of bursting with color. We followed the trail down alongside the waterfall, where we got drenched with mist. I was thrilled for this chance to do some hiking before we reached the city-bound stretch of our trip, and happily stomped my way through puddles to get the most of out of the waterproof hiking shoes I’d hauled across the Atlantic.

Loch Ness

It’s a Sassenach summer

Fun fact: I have a Loch Ness monster tramp stamp (or as I call it, a Triassic stamp, ba-dum-bah!) I am a sucker for any sort of mythology, especially if it involves fantasy creatures. The area surrounding Loch Ness is full of kitschy tourist attractions, pretty similar to what I experienced recently in Roswell, New Mexico. This was where we did some souvenir shopping browsing the selection of t-shirts, tchotchkes, and calendars of men in kilts. We paid £7 each to enter a Nessie exhibit, which I found rather disappointing until we discovered a hidden OUTLANDER-THEMED ROOM (seriously, way to bury the lede, Nessieland!). After doing a quick change out of our hiking clothes behind a shed in a parking lot, we rushed over to our next agenda item, traditional tea service in a country house. Though first, we did a shot of whisky sharing Adrienne’s family name as we stood alongside Loch Ness, toasting with her clan motto: “If not peace, war!”

No Nessie sightings today

During our tea (which included Prosecco, cold sandwiches, appetizers, and a crowd-pleasing three-tiered tray of desserts), we noted the background music, a Spotify playlist of acoustic covers. Little did we know at this point the popularity of this particular playlist in Scotland, as John Mayer and Ed Sheeran would continue to follow us the entire week, crooning from hidden speakers in the corner of multiple coffee shops and restaurants. I always get a kick out of seeing what is popularly used as atmospheric music (for example, Sweden had a preference for pop tunes straight off every Dawson’s Creek soundtrack from the mid-aughts).

our tea time view

Inverness
We stopped at a Tesco to pick up wine and snacks for our night of glamping (I can’t think of the popular UK grocery chain without hearing Lily Allen sing in my head “She was struggling with bags from Tesco”). Our glamping pod was located in the outskirts of Inverness, a round little hobbit house with a fire pit. The pod was an adorable decked out with a double bed, two bunk beds, and a shower that made me feel like I was in a transporter from Star Trek. It was a cool night, slightly misty, and we craved a little more exploration, so we embarked on a “wine hike” through a nearby park. The wooded path was lined with holly shrubs, and followed a winding little creek.

Back at the pod, we made a fire, had some more wine, and enjoyed the peace, quiet, and lack of John Mayer.

our glamping pod