Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Traveling Betty Style: Part III, Scottish Highlands

All too soon, our honeymoon time in Ireland came to a close back in April. I know that we will go back again someday, because something just clicked with us there. It was peaceful, fun, and ... homey. I'd love to spend even more relaxing time in the southern region, adding on Dublin or Belfast as a city-leg.

Thankfully for us, we didn't have to go home just yet. We were headed off for week two - this time, in Scotland! 

Both Ireland and Scotland were new-to-us places to visit, and Scotland, even more so, because we had few family or friends that had been there. We did know, however, that there were two things on our must-do list. Whiskey and haggis. Ha!

So off we went. For three nights, we stayed in a tiny B&B in the Scottish Highlands, north of Edinburgh. We chose a tiny area called Aberdeenshire as home base; close to the Whiskey Trail, and smack in the middle of a big mountain range. I really should just say we stayed in the middle. of. nowhere, as this map to the right will help to exhibit :)

Not far from us, mountains were covered with peaks of snow. Even though it was the last week of April, Scotland had been hit with a late spring snow-blast, so the daffodils were just starting to pop by the time we arrived. The air had not quite warmed up yet; we definitely needed our winter coats most days!

Life really slowed down for us out there in the Highlands. We were the sole guests at the B&B, meaning we could be as lazy as we wanted coming down for breakfast and didn't have to make small talk with other guests in the evening. While we enjoyed meeting so many people in Ireland, by Scotland, we were ready for some serious solo time.

One of the first things we did while in Scotland was take a drive out to the Whiskey Trail. On the Trail, there are countless distilleries, some more famous than others. We took a drive past Macallan and Glenlivet, and then did a tasting tour at Glenfiddich.

Since Brad is both a whiskey drinker and a beer home-brewer, he loved seeing the inner workings of the place. Plus, it was a gorgeous campus, making for a lovely day trip!

BB Tip: If you are a whiskey lover, the tours are free, as is the whiskey tasting at the end! Bring a driver if you are planning on going to more than one distillery, as the samples they pour are generous. 

One thing we learned while out in the Highlands is that they do not have pubs in every small town like in Ireland. In some areas, the nearest (good) restaurant can be a 30 minute drive through wooded lands. We stopped the first night in a nearby city, and then on our second night, made a point to go to a Hilton resort property for a proper meal.

It was here that we first tried haggis - and loved it! We went on to have haggis for a few other meals, including breakfast. Not feeling adventurous? I had vegetarian haggis for a few meals (mostly trying to save some calories for beers later!) and it tasted almost the same, without the ick factor that you might have with the real thing.

BB Tip: Large hotel properties are a safe bet for a solid meal if you are feeling a little nervous about trying some of the local cuisine. Plus, the meal was a steal at ours - two three-course meals came in at less than $50! Be sure to check a recent edition tour guide book or website in advance for ideas, as towns can be a good distance apart and restaurants, like here in the U.S., change out frequently.

My favorite thing we did in the Highlands was go for a long walk out to a huge Loch. One of the Queen's national parks, this Loch was about a mile in from the car park, winding through lowlands with big, open skies above. We didn't see a single person the entire two hours we were out there. Crazy!

It was super windy out there -- but we loved every second of it!

Other favorite moments included exploring local castles. Just like in Ireland, they appear almost around every corner, each with its own rich history. 

BB Tip: Bring some local change to put in the meters at the public parks, and pack a snack and drinks to bring along for the drive. Castles abound along the way. Some are free; others cost upwards of $15 if a historical monument.

Next up: Our last few days (tear!) ... in Edinburgh (yay!) !