Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Scotland June 2017

Scotland is one of those places everyone needs to visit more! Me included for sure - I tell myself so every time I do make it all the way up there. It really is the most beautiful country but for me personally, it is kind of awkward. I live on the South Coast of England so actually France is easier to reach than Scotland is. It's way too far to spend a weekend there and if I have the time off to take a proper trip somewhere, I tend to flee the country like every single other Brit. However, for the past couple of weeks I have been on a 2 week staycation, travelling across Scotland and I thought I would take this opportunity to share my adventure with you. I am sure it will persuade you that you should definitely give Scotland the time of day.

Loch Ness and Inverness
I started my tour in the pretty highlands with an explore of Inverness and the surrounding countryside, which I headed into in order to search for magic and the mythical Nessie. I never realised just how big Loch Ness is and how far away it is from Inverness: 22 miles of beauty, which we drove by at about 11pm as the sun was going down. It was truly stunning and the little snapshot that we experienced that weekend was not enough. I could have stayed there for weeks.

We went Nessie hunting the morning after we arrived. As we walked by the glittering Loch we knew that this was where mythical creatures dwelled. I decided to believe that the sparkling surface was little to do with the sunlight bouncing off the water and more to do with Nessie sending up her twinkly mythic magic.

There are plenty of picturesque walks around the villages which surround Loch Ness, not just by the Loch itself. We were staying in the village of Drumnadrochit, nestled in a valley. We climbed one of the surrounding hills to find the beautiful Dhivach Waterfall which apparently used to be a haunt of JM Barrie's. Which I can totally understand - it is magical here as well and you could totally imagine Tinkerbell living there.

That day we walked about 12.5 miles exploring the beautiful countryside. It may sound like a lot but we could easily have walked more if it had not been for our inappropriate shoes (only bringing heeled boots was potentially the worst packing mistake I have ever made. Except perhaps the time I forgot all my underwear. Moving on...) and the interchangeable weather. It would literally change without any warning at all. The candyfloss clouds turned an angry grey and sank on to the top of the hillsides, obscuring them from view. And then the heavens would open on us. We got poured on - by the rainclouds themselves and the puddles. Some arse drove through an enormous one really fast, on purpose, just as we were passing it. It was a proper Bridget Jones moment which we could have done without really.

So obviously we had to go to the pub to warm up with a whiskey - when in Scotland, you must drink whiskey. Isn't that how the saying goes? The bar tender was delighted and he seemed to enjoy talking all the different whiskeys over with me, advising me which ones to try. I am very proud to say that I did it the proper Scottish way too: straight with only the littlest amount of water. I was a bit worried that if I had asked for coke with it, the locals would have lynched me. It turned out to be reasonably pleasant though and did the job of warming me up.

The next day started off fine but as we bussed it back to Inverness (a stomach churning experience considering our whiskey-induced hangovers. I genuinely thought I was going to chuck up all over the couple in front of me! Which would have set my friend off. Not ideal.) the sky got darker and darker and darker. It was pouring again by the time we reached town.  So we hid in a coffee shop called So Coco which only did THE best coffee and cake ever. And by the time it had revived us, the rain had stopped and we could explore the town a little.

Aberdeen and Stonehaven
Aberdeen too was extremely wet (you can see a theme developing here) so I spent most of the week, hiding in coffee shops with my writing and my books. And much as I wish the weather had been a little better, it wasn't a bad way to spend my days. I found a few really unique ones, most memorably, Cup and Books & Beans. Both were decorated absolutely beautifully. If you are a tea addict you will be in heaven in Cup which has every type of tea you could imagine with suitably cute little teacups to go with it. Books and Beans is more of a coffee haven and if you are a book lover - which I imagine that most of my readers are - this is a must. You actually sit amongst the bookshelves which makes the books all the more tempting.

The grey city/the granite city should not be dismissed. Yes the rain can make it look a little dismal but it is really striking. Old Aberdeen in particular is something else. This is where you can find most of the sights such as St Machar's Cathedral (which is unlike any other cathedral that I have seen before), Aberdeen University, including the beautiful King's College Chapel, Seaton Park and Brig O Balgownie which is one of the oldest and most unusual bridges in Britain. All are situated within about half an hour's walk of each other. And along the way, I strolled past these absolutely adorable houses. I was basically house hunting as I went and any of these would do nicely.

Speaking of cute cottages - Footdee is well worth a visit as well. It is just the most adorable little place on the edge of Aberdeen, only about half an hour's walk from the centre - so unexpected amongst all the quays and the constructions sites where they work on the huge ships. It is only a tiny square and apparently there is a waiting list that is years long for one of these cottages. Which doesn't surprise me at all. Just look at them.

Most of what is attractive to see in Aberdeen are the parks that are scattered across the city and because it was raining for the majority of my stay, I could not really appreciate them. I walked around Seaton Park pretty briskly because the clouds were starting to look threatening (I really couldn't cope with getting caught in the rain again!). The afternoon was much brighter though so I wasn't as worried when I walked over to Duthie Park. It was just windy (I climbed the mound in the corner of the park and was genuinely a bit worried I was going to be blown over the edge. I hung on to the flagpole very tightly) and cold. Therefore rather than relaxing outside on the grass, after my stroll, I plonked myself down in the greenhouses which housed the Winter Gardens. They were seriously pretty and as I couldn't feel the wind, I could just enjoy the bright sunshine which had finally appeared. In fact, it made the greenhouses so warm that I found myself dozing off, much to the amusement of a pair of old ladies who walked past me.

On that one day where the weather let up a little bit, I also grabbed the opportunity to whiz over to nearby Stonehaven. This rugged coastline is something that I just don't see down here in the South of England. The sea was such an unbelievable blue - I always think that the North Sea looks so much bluer than the English Channel that I am used to. It is a royal, electric kind of blue which looked amazing. Almost good enough to swim in, although that would have been tricky considering I was at the top of a cliff. And I would imagine that it would be a little on the cold side - the three seals which tuned up, didn't seem to mind so much though and looked like they were having great fun, playing with each other, within the waves. We thought it would be a better idea if we went for Fish & Chips and Ice Cream instead though, which we ate right on the beach. Perfection.

I obviously couldn't take a trip up to Scotland without visiting its capital. It is one of my favourite cities in the entire world and being back within the view of its beautiful architecture reminded me of that. I so so badly want to live here.

I first visited Edinburgh last October and during that stay I explored most of the touristy sights (check out last year's Edinburgh blogpost here) so this time it was fun exploring more of the nitty gritty intimate life of the city.

Shopping is not usually top on my list of priorities when I go away. But during that weekend in Edinburgh I had a wonderful time being 'dragged' around vintage clothes shops. There are some such beautiful ones, like Armstrong's on Grassmarket and when you visit them, you never want to visit a High Street store again. You just want to stay immersed in that walk-in treasure trove, exploring every single nook. You can find some absolute gems hidden in its depths. In return, my friends came with me to one of my favourite bookshops in the world, Armchair Books. Last year I had visited pretty much all the bookshops that Edinburgh had to offer and I declared Armchair Books to be my favourite of the bunch. With its floor to ceiling bookshelves and hidden little corners, it had this friendly feel that was really hard to drag me away from. It's basically my idea of heaven.

In addition to shopping we also spent our time, contentedly eating and drinking our way through the city and I was excited to sample the nightlife for the first time. I hadn't been brave enough to go out by myself when I visited last year but now, with an ex-Edinburgh student leading the way, we took in the nightlife scenes in both the New Town and Old Town. Garibaldi's was potentially my favourite; an underground intimate bar just off George Street that had a small dance floor which contained a pole. For pole dancing. You can imagine just how exciting that is, when you have drunk 8 vodkas. We ended the night swaying gently and trying to find our way home in the maze of streets and little closes that make up the Old Town. But as we crossed North Bridge, we realised that the sun was beginning to rise so we stood there a while, chatting to a scotsman in a kilt, and watching it slowly appear to light up Calton Hill.  It was a perfect way to end the night, although it would have been slightly more sensible to head to bed a touch earlier, considering how little time we actually had for sleeping before we had to check out. I am 99% sure I was still drunk.

I think I have basically summed up the excitement of my trip but quickly before I go, I thought I would also share with you -- I tried Haggis. Yes I did really. And I didn't hate it  I am ever so slightly proud of myself. In fact, taking this into account, on top of the fact I drank my body weight in whiskey in the course of 12 days, I think I can basically call myself Scottish now. And I wouldn't mind that at all.

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