Escaping the city to visit Highlands… and meet some ‘coos’

I wrote previously that we spend long weekend in early April in Edinburgh and chose the get out of the city for two days. We booked online two different one-day tours to learn more of the country, history and people during our visit as well as to avoid driving on the wrong side of the road 😉

Our first tour was Hairy Coo Free Highland tour promising us a one day adventure out of the city to see the real highlands and away from the crowds. The cute orange bus “Daisy” started from the center of the old town on Lawnmarket and we were lucky to get three guides for the trip (one of the founders as the main guide and two more in training). The tour took all day and we heard great stories and tales from Scottish history and life  today. I don’t want to spoil anything by quoting too much of the stories and rather let the pictures tell of the places we saw.

At the end of the tour all participants could choose themselves how much they wished to pay for the tour (in tips), as it was Free Tour. I my opinion this tour was very good and it delivered as promised a great day outside the city. I enjoyed the stories told by the guide and especially loved meeting some “locals”, highland cattle, up close.

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Our second tour was with NessBus (through Hairy Coo) and headed to Loch Ness and back. This was also a whole day tour and a bit longer than the Highlands Tour. The drive itself up to Lock Ness (Fort Augustus takes without stops almost 4 hours) from Edinburgh meaning this tour was a lot of sitting in the buss and looking at views. The guide was good and kept telling us stories of the places we drove by as well as history of Scotland with its Kings and Queens, continuous battles with England and tales of Rob Roy MacGregor (the Scottish Robin Hood).

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We started they day in Deanston Distillery learning about whiskey and getting to taste some the distillery’s 12 year old scotch.

After few hour drive we had a two hour break in Fort Augustus to take a cruise on Loch Ness and try to see the monster. On the boat we heard more about all the monster chases and evidence they have gathered of it during the years. On our way back I admit taking a nap in the bus as it had been long day 😉

I did enjoy this tour also though the day schedule felt quite rushed, which is understandable do to long drive to Loch Ness. Of these two tours if I only wanted to use one day to visit outside of Edinburgh I would have to choose the Free Highland Tour and reserve more than a day to drive and visit Loch NessNessie

All in all I also have to admit that I loved Scotland and am already planning a new visit to see more of its castles and beautiful nature.

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To the land of the Loch Ness Monster, Braveheart and haggis…

… that was basically all I knew of this proud nation before my visit. I like so many others have heard the stories of Lock Ness Monster, watched Braveheart (couple of times), read the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon (and enjoyed the BBC series) and seen the many pictures of bagpipes, kilts and plated clothes. These were the images I had in my head before getting on the plane for a long weekend getaway to the nation’s capital Edinburgh.

For this long weekend trip we only had four days to spend in Scotland and though you could easily use to explore Edinburgh we wanted the whole experience with some Highland adventures too. So after searching online we ended up booking two one-day trips outside of the city and spend the other two days wandering around Edinburgh.

So to start with two days in the city, what to see?!

On our first day we arrived with a morning flight so chose to just walk around the major sights and get feeling of the place. We started from the Castle heading down Royal mile, popping in to see the beautiful St. Giles Cathedral, enjoying the calm and peace of the old Canongate Kirk cemetery and finally before ending up to the Palace of Holyroodhouse walking past the modern, perhaps slightly out of place among all the old houses, the Scottish Parliament building.

From the Palace of Holyroodhouse we headed back up towards the center via Carlton road and climbing past the Scottish Government house to Carlton Hill. The view over the city and across to the waterfront in Leith was great.

Walking all day we ended up getting some cute and delicious cupcakes from Bibi’s Bakery and getting some dinner from a Japanese restaurant close to our accommodation. I have to recommend both, the ramen was excellent as was the cookie monster cupcake for desert 😉 We stayed in Averon Guest House on Gilmore Place. It was really nice place built in an old 19th century house. The room included warm breakfast which was cooked each day from 8am onwards and each evening the owner performed old Scottish songs and stories in the breakfast lounge at 9 pm.

For our second day in the city we had still many things to do and see. We started early by heading to the castle (to avoid crowds) with many other tourists. We chose to take audio tour to learn some more of history of the place. It took us almost two hours to just walk around the castle, listen to the audio guide, see the Scottish crown jewels and visit the Prisons of war. I thought the most impressive part was to visit the Scottish National War Memorial to commemorate the lives lost in various conflicts. As it is a memorial no photography was allowed inside and I think this also brought the feeling of calm and peace inside the building as people were not trying to get the “perfect picture” but rather focused more on what they were seeing and listening (me included). Do not miss looking up in the Shrine to a large impressive figure of Archangel Michael hanging from the ceiling and the words “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of the God – There shall no evil happen, they are in peace” written across the wall.

From the castle we headed through the blooming Prices Street Gardens down the hill to a bus stop get a ride closer to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Weather was turning to more sunny so we thought it would be nice to be outside for a while. The gardens are well worth the visit even this early in the spring, though not so many flowers were blooming just yet. The entrance is free with the exception of visiting the Glasshouses (fee £6,50). We entered the park from West Entrance and headed first to the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden. It had a beautiful little hut which was entirely decorated with sea shells and pine cones inside.

Next we headed to the Glasshouses of which the oldest one, Tropical Palm House, was built already in 1834. There are 10 separate houses with each a different climate and variety of plants. We were really lucky as the rain shower for the day went over the gardens during our visit indoors. A calm walk through all the glasshouses took about 45 minutes.

I have always wanted to try the traditional afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches, just like in all the movies and books 🙂 We reserved a table from the Gateway restaurant at the West Entrance which offered a lovely afternoon tea setting with different salty and sweet treats. On our way out of the park we stopped for a while to admire the booming Yoshino cherry tree near the East Entrance.

For the evening we still had one more thing on our to do list, to climb to the Arthurs Seat to admire the view and sunset. Well scheduling is not our forte so we were a bit late getting again across town so instead of climbing the higher Arthurs Seat we decided to head for the peak (Salisbury Crags) closer to the road. The path starts next to the Place of Holyroodhouse. Do not take the stairs and path to the right unless you only want to climb to Arthur’s Seat. Instead walk a bit on the paved road to the left and then the path up the hill. This will take directly to the edge of Salisbury Crags and then to a small valley where the stairs up to Arthur’s Seat start. We did not follow this guide and headed up the stairs to the right so it took us a bit longer detour to get to the peak. The view was very nice over the center and also to the sea. However it was very windy on the top and a flashlight would have been nice coming down after sunset. Just to keep in mind for the next time 🙂