Aye, it is a wee challenge to narrow all the things I love about Scotland down to 5, but to save us both some time I’ll give it a crack.
I visited Scotland for the first time while hitchhiking in the cold, dreary, wet post-summer land a few weeks ago. I drove across the border into Scotland in the van with a Glaswegian family. And since there were no seats in the front, I rode in back with their new Border Collie pup. Beats taking the bus! Crossing into Scotland, I got a great sense othat I was indeed in a new country and it delivered such, exceeding all my expectations.
Haggis is a Scotish staple (or more accurately an often expensive delicacy enjoyed on special occasions). Its made of minced sheep heart, liver and lungs with various spices and veggies added in depending on the type. It’s sometimes served in a sheep’s stomach but I’m not made of money. In fact, the polar opposite of the fancy tourist-trap haggis’ available is the deep fried Fish n Chip shop haggis bar? stick? slab? It’s incredibly tasty and fulfilling when you’re in the mood for a meaty meal with a potent flavour. It’s a stereotype, but its a good one and one not ruined by tourism. Haggis is great at any time of day.
There’s a great sense of comraderie among the Scots. More so than anywhere else I’ve been (except maybe New Zealand), a Scot will fire up a conversation with you for the sake of having a yarn. On the train, outside the pub, in a club, on the street, in a shop, anywhere. The polar opposite of ‘make no eye contact, stare down at your phone, and pray nobody talks to you’ that you get around elsewhere.
I stayed in Scotland and my buddies Kieran and Darren picked me up in a car and we drove around the greater Glasgow area, seeing all the villages, towns and nature there is to see in a day and in the days following Kieran and I did the most comprehensive tour of western Scotland. Never before have I been hosted quite like this. From the pubs of Glasgow to the rolling munroes (hills), and all the way to…
Scotland’s postcards come from here. People see the highlands on Facebook and are injected with a fierce desire to travel the outdoors. There’s a magical quality about the stark rock formations, rolling hills, towering mountains and deep river valleys of this most unique of regions. Sure, its wet, but its also the greenest natural landscape I have ever laid eyes on. No photo does it justice. In fact not even a face-to-face encounter did it justice. These experiences of awe and wonder are what makes me feel like I am doing what I need to be doing in my life. They enrich my experience of travel with novelty and a sense of being where I belong. The highlands transcend the mere mountains. And everybody should visit.
The Drinks of Choice
For the alcohol enthusiast, a visit to Scotland is incomplete without the pounding sense of regret that fills your enlightened mind after a night on the national drink: Buckfast. The affordable, alcohol-infused, sugar-packed, caffeine-full brew is sort of fortified wine but not really. It tastes more like grape juice. It’s like goon’s crazy uncle. It’s a disaster in a bottle and it’s magnificent!
But Scotland’s heart also lies with another: Irn Bru. This orange energy-soda is a staple here. You have it with your fish and chips, you have it with spirits, you have it on your cereal if you so desire (probably not). The recipe is a well-kept secret and it is poorly imitated, like a drinkable WD-40. It works like WD-40 if you have enough of it.
In Edinburgh, there’s cafes, bakeries and icecream stores that boast Irn-Bru and Buckfast flavoured goodies that would taste just as good when they come back up at the end of the night. Mon the Scots!
A city like no other. Revered around England as the home of pub brawls, violent football hooliganism and drug abuse, Glasgow offers the polar opposite. Glasgow is famous the world over for it’s rock bands, being the shooting location for Trainspotting and its unmistakeable accent. The accent is the most charming and character-full I encountered in the UK (there’s no shortage of contenders) and is easy to keep up with… unless the speaker is above 60 then you’ve got no chance.
Unlike Edinburgh where all the historical buildings are corderned off and separated, most of Glasgow’s beauties are one floor up, while the bottom floors have been converted into Primarks and Greggs’. You’ll be amazed how rarely people actually look up above eye level. And if you don’t look up you’ll miss all of Glasgow’s most awe-inspiring sights.