In 2015 I went to Scotland for the first time. Not a place I’d really thought of visiting before possibly due to the curse of Londoner’s ignorance, I can only put the urge down to hearing ‘Scottish Independence’ around 451 times over that past year and my subsequent fondness for Nicola Sturgeon. That aside, any country who has a unicorn as their official animal has to be pretty awesome.
My right-hand (wo)man Dian was born in Glasgow and agreed to return to break my Northern virginity, so we set off in the car at 4am on a Thursday morning.
The drive from Berkshire to Glasgow took us just under 6 hours – I’m sure largely in part to Dian’s insane driving the time we left.
We stayed at the Thistle Glasgow Hotel, just off Sauchiehall Street – somewhat of a central location for shopping and the like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. £80 a night got us a double room and access to their sauna, steam room, swimming pool and jacuzzi.
We had 24 hours in Glasgow and we decided to make the most of hotel’s health suite before heading down to the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. A city girl through and through, it was a much needed therapeutic afternoon.
Sadly we didn’t get to visit any of the galleries for which Glasgow is renowned for (revoke my travel blog pass here), but we vowed to return and visit them when we had more time on our hands.
Dinner came courtesy of Sapporo Teppanyaki, a Japanese restaurant with three chains in THE NORTH, as motorway signs call it. Our chef made our orders at our table, which we shared with six others. It was my first experience of Scots on a Friday night – the man I was seated next to had definitely arrived at Drunkville by 7pm, shouting in an almost unintelligible accent whilst picking up and slamming his beer down on my knife over and over again. It was equally annoying and amazing, and the Blushing Geisha mocktail was so gorgeous it shall never be forgotten.
For afters we headed to an airy warehouse-style dessert parlour called Jelly Bear. Adorned with signs saying things like ‘I WANT A NICE BODY BUT I WANT DESERT MORE,’ and I momentarily wondered how I had ended up in Shoreditch, but I’m not gonna lie, I liked it. I dug into Scottish tablet ice cream and it was divine.
The following morning we went to the local iCafe for a full English (Scottish, I mean?) halal breakfast, which as other halal-only eaters know, is a luxury to behold.
We then shot off in the car for a scenic two-hour drive to the fishing village Mallaig (home to the Harry Potter train) where we went to The Steam Inn to indulge in their locally sourced fish, which was heaven.
Next up we boarded a ferry to take us to the Isle of Skye, which took around 30 minutes, costing £33.80 for two people and the car – we booked this online and was a worthwhile investment for the views alone.
On arrival we made our way to our hotel Skye Haven, located in Portree. The majority of the two hour drive across the island was done in the wilderness, following a lonely road surrounded by greenery and mountains. It was stunning, eerie, devastatingly peaceful. The silence was broken off when Dian asked me if we were in a desert and my subsequent laughter.
Skye Haven is owned by couple David and Anna Sinclair and only has four rooms, giving it the feel of a secret escape. The room was like one big onesie – absolute comfort. Breakfast was pre-ordered the night before as David, a chef may I add, cooks and serves everything himself in their living room turned breakfast room.
On Sunday morning we walked to Portree’s main square to meet our tour operator Bill. Prior to arrival we’d booked a day trip around the island with Real Scottish Journeys for £35 each, which would allow us to see the main highlights of the island – the Fairy Glen, Kilt Rock, Fairy Pools, Quiraing, Neist Point, Old Man of Storr and finally the Cuillin Mountains.
Setting off around 9am and returning to the main square around 5pm, it was well worth it if you only have a day to see it all.
As you may have gathered, I like food – so let me also recommend Jann’s Cakes in Dunvegan, where Bill stopped for our lunch. Here I enjoyed a heavenly £7 vanilla and chocolate truffle that I actually dreamt about last night. #SingleLife
That evening we enjoyed a beautifully flavoured lobster at the Rosedale hotel by Portree’s harbour before heading off for an early night – we were Edinburgh bound the following morning.
Our route saw us travel via the Skye Bridge and through Inverness, which again provided some marvelous views. Stopping at the Loch Ness, I was surprised at how disappointed I was that I didn’t see Nessie herself. But yep, food always makes me happy, and so we headed to Turkish restaurant Aspendos for a yummy Mediterranean lunch.
With time not on our side we carried on forth to Edinburgh, arriving in the evening and thus taking advantage of the free parking outside of our hotel, Motel One. The hotel has two branches in Edinburgh and we stayed at the Royal on Market Street. The hotel looked great, inside and out, but unfortunately that changed once we got into our room, which looked like a jail.
The lack of ambiance was tolerable for one night though, so we buckled down to get an early night. Sadly, although the window didn’t let light in, it let sound in alright. I was woken at 1am by what sounded like the man who sat next to me at Sapporo shouting in my face.
The next morning we took a stroll in the rain to Edinburgh Castle, which was a castle. We didn’t pay to go in as I couldn’t imagine seeing anything that would be worth the ticket price of £16.50. Accept my ignorance, alright.
We strolled around the streets of Edinburgh afterwards picking up Tablet, tartan scarves and mugs. Edinburgh is a very pretty city. Several Scots, including Dian, told me it wasn’t the best place to go for an authentic experience of Scottish life as it’s always congested with tourists.
This was not a lie – Glasgow is where it’s at if you want a taste of a real Scottish city, in my opinion. The Highlands are an essential part of the Scottish experience – in fact, visiting the Highlands and hearing ancient Caledonian tales was my highlight. You can’t really be aware of the magic within the United Kingdom until you spent a day hiking at the Fairy Pools.
Our drive back to England took around seven hours, and I wasn’t happy to leave the blend of vibrant cities and beautifully serene virtually deserted greenland behind.