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Scotland is an ocean of stories — some historical, others constantly evolving, many underrepresented — each revealing little snippets of themselves through the people, the architecture, the rituals, art and landscape alike. In order to grasp the entire tale, you have to read past the first chapter. For, then you will truly appreciate Scotland’s story.
As Scotia’s darling seat, Edinburgh is a city of literature, festivals, startups and innovation, graced with striking old buildings and fresh new approaches. There’s no denying its appeal as a life-affirming city to visit, and yet it only scrapes Scotland’s surface. Think of Edinburgh, if you will, a gourmet appetizer to the full-works Michelin-starred meal to come.
The Highlands is one of earth’s many places enslaved to stereotypes that barely do them justice. Initial thoughts jump from rolling hills to moody lochs and lonely alluring pockets of land. Although such stereotypes are not necessarily negative, the truth remains that these entrenched images equate to notions of ‘rural fantasies’, preconceived notions that pigeon hole a place forever. The truth remains that the further you go into the Highlands, the more alive it becomes, with its breathtaking mountain vistas, enigmatic landscapes and harsh histories, all of which amalgamate to authentic representations of Scotland.
The Highlands are a treasure chest of pure untainted land, close-knit communities and undisturbed wildlife: Dolphins dotting about the Moray Coast, a strong focus on traditional craftsmanship, The Nevis Reserve with its many winter sports activities, Fort William — with its title as the UK’s Outdoor Capital and host of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup — and breathtaking displays of man’s ingenuity, like the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
And don’t forget the tribe of mighty Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet). To outdoor enthusiasts, the Highlands are home, and these Munros, along with the surrounding ridges, peaks, hills and lochs, an adventure of unrivalled appeal.
As it does in the Highlands, this reciprocal relationship with the land reigns supreme across the whole of Scotland, and it’s not limited to outdoor enthusiasts and their Munro counterparts. This bond extends to the rural hill farmers, the fishermen, the butchers, the gamekeepers, the weavers and anyone else in between. The further you trek from Edinburgh, the more this fact reveals itself. Take Scotland’s offering of world class restaurants for instance. Whether fine French cuisine or modern British, almost every one of them sources local ingredients, from hand-dived scallops from Orkney to razor clams from the Isle of Barra. That quality comes from the Scots relationship and understanding with the land, including the Islands, the Highlands, the Borders and central Scotland.
Aside from sensational seafood, the Isles of Scotland are pockets of unaltered beauty in the purest sense, from the Fairy Pools, dinosaur footprints, brooding Cuillin Mountains and transformative views of Skye to the Norse heritage, fine display of pure craftsmanship and folk music culture of Shetland. Again, these authentic components of real Scottish culture are alluded to in the likes of Edinburgh but never fully portrayed.
The Scottish Isles are also home to the world’s finest beaches and surfing spots, some so spellbinding that their Caribbean-like, crystal clear waters with cerulean hues shock the unsuspecting visitor. You just have to know where to go — and travel off the beaten path to find them.
Then there’s the whisky and the gin and lots of it! Small batch and bursting with locally foraged ingredients, there’s nothing like tasting an artisanal brew in the place where it all started.
Edinburgh may be one of the more famous Scottish cities (quite rightly so) but Glasgow is a jewel in its own right. For starters, it’s Scotland’s largest city. Add its breathtaking architecture, artistic prowess, rich shipbuilding heritage and status as second city of the empire, and there’s a whole lot of wanderlust appeal there. Wherever you go in Glasgow, it’s alive. The people, the businesses, the buzz — they all possess this inimitable quality that keeps you wanting more. From the street art scene and maze of museums to live music venues and reputation as Scotland’s best shopping spot, Glasgow deserves more credit. Not to mention the fact that you can eat your way around the world at the menu of memorable eateries. Once more, head a smidgen out of the city and you’re in the magic of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park or on the ferry to the Isle of Bute to see one of the world’s most stunning neo-Gothic mansions, complete with celestial murals and swathes of Carrera marble.
One of the beautiful things about Scotland is its eclectic array of places, with no two spots ever being the same. An often-overlooked pocket of Scotland is the Borders — a place of Common Riding, fishing, historical sites and stately homes. Between Melrose with its mysterious ancient Abbey ruins dating from 1136, Peebles and its status as one of Scotland’s most creative places, and Kelso, with its charming Abbey, Floors Castle and Britain’s Friendliest Racetrack, the Borders is a bubble of cultural worth.
Then there’s Scotland’s network of coastal towns and fishing villages. Anstruther has arguably one of the world’s greatest fish and chip shops while St Abbs boasts a secret underwater paradise and the UK’s first Voluntary Marine Reserve. Elie, with its charming houses and strong community spirit is always a joy.
Explore St Andrews with its ancient university, independent shops and mindboggling history, or head back up north and see Aberdeen, the Granite City, with its army of granite architecture. At the end of the day, Edinburgh as the original seat of enlightenment will always hold Scotland’s heart, but don’t forget to venture further, for then you’ll find her soul.