WELCOME TO OUR GUIDE TO SCOTLAND!
You will find information on most towns and villages in Scotland and I hope that this guide will allow you to have a great experience Scotland is a great place to visit and with our fascinating history, legendary culture and superb hospitality, you are guaranteed an experience second to none.
The capital of the country is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It is often referred to as the ‘Athens of the North’ due to its fine, Palladian architecture and general air of education and refinement. Having said that, over more recent years ‘rather stuffy’ Edinburgh was jarred from its smug complacency after resting long on its world-renowned reputation. The monopoly over the Scottish cultural crown was cheekily hijacked during the 1980s and it now remains an open issue who best represents the country’s cultural heart.
The topography of the town is remarkable with several elevations breaking the city’s slate-grey, chimney-potted expanse. Robert Louis Stevenson declared, “No situation could be more commanding for the head of a kingdom and none better chosen for better prospects”.
Edinburgh, like most of the Lothians, is set on the wide plain of the River Forth with volcanic left-overs such as Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat being the most prominent natural heights. Around these hills ‘Auld Reekie’, as it was known before the days of smokeless fuel, grew and prospered.
For exploration, the city is best divided into three sections, the Old Town, the New Town and the outskirts. Each section would need at least a day to best appreciate, so a minimum of three days should be allowed.
The Old and New Town are essentially a walking proposition with most places of consequence within easy distance of one another. Parking a car anywhere near the city centre is very difficult but public transport is effective both into the centre and to outlying parts.
Edinburgh’s history seems to surround its central fortification and this is the point where much of the earliest archaeological evidence has been uncovered. The lofty lump supporting Edinburgh Castle is the residue of a volcanic plug that resisted the forces of a huge glacier pushing eastward along what is now the Forth Valley. The strategic position of Castle Rock was long recognised by the Romans and their main adversaries, the Pictish tribes, as well as the powers that followed them.
There is only one tenable approach to Edinburgh Castle via the eastward sloping Royal Mile and would-be attackers were forced to consider this. In 1313 some resolute assailants under the administration of Robert the Bruce scaled Castle Rock’s formidable northern aspect and ramparts to retake the castle from the English. They then dismantled it and Bruce later granted the town a royal charter in 1329 as well as jurisdiction over the port of Leith which lead to greater trading opportunities and wealth. Rebuilt in 1356, the castle became not only a fortress but also a royal palace.
A defensive wall was erected around the area east of the castle in 1456 roughly defining the area we now know as the Old Town. Through the Renaissance period the small city flourished in a stable era until Scotland’s defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. A second wall, the Flodden Wall, was hurriedly thrown up after this defeat which was followed by a time of great instability culminating in the sacking of the town by the forces of Henry VIII.
On her return to Scotland, Mary set up court in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace. In 1603 her son, James VI, with the Union of the Crowns, inherited the English throne and moved his Scottish court to London. In some ways this was the end of the Scottish monarchy as, despite his promises, James only returned to his native land once.
The last significant assault on Edinburgh Castle came in 1745 when the Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie once again wrested it, without much resistance, from English hands. The period of the Enlightenment continued and thrived following the upheavals and defeat of the Jacobite Rebellion and throughout the period of peace that followed. New ideas in science, philosophy and literature flourished without the inhibiting presence of nobility. Philosophers and writers such as David Hume, Adam Smith, Allan Ramsay, and even Robert Burns were products of this era. James Watt was inspired to invent the steam engine around this time.
Entrance to the castle is made at the top of the Royal Mile and into the Esplanade, a wide parade ground that presents splendid views north over the city and south to the Pentland Hills about 8 miles (13km) away. The imposing building you see on the south side is George Herriott’s School, built in the mid-seventeenth century as an orphanage and now a private school. During the summer the Esplanade is prepared for nightly pageants held during the Military Tattoo. The castle entrance is guarded by members of the Highland Regiment, the last draw-bridge to be built in Scotland as well as the imposing statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. There are some six gates between the entrance and the Argyle and Mills Batteries designed to keep the English out but now, for a cost, they are made most welcome. Every day at 1pm (13.00 hours), a salute is fired from the upper battery.
Fun and Festivals
Many visitors come to Edinburgh specifically for the Edinburgh International Festival held for 3 weeks every year in August when the town is taken over by thespians of every sort who put on more than 13,000 performances per festival. The Festival was started in 1947 to help shake off the gloom of the post war years and with several names of international stature supporting it, the new festival got off to a good start. The Fringe started at the same time and is now the world’s largest arts festival with over 500 performances each day supported by 450 companies. During this time the Military Tattoo is held every night in the Castle Esplanade. A more recent development to try and bridge the tourist gap around the Christmas holiday is ‘Edinburgh’s Hogmanay’ with several attractions culminating in the traditional Edinburgh gathering around the Tron Church on the Mile to bring in New Year.
Edinburgh has a particularly lively pub scene around the centre. Hostelries of interesting historical and architectural significance are included in several trails from the Grass market to Rose Street. Pubs have replaced the old coffee-houses of Edinburgh’s past and are an important element of local culture. Some worth visiting for their atmosphere would be The Last Drop and the Preservation Hall around the Grassmarket, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern in Bank Street at the corner with the Royal Mile and the Auld Toll Bar just beyond the Toll Cross in Bruntsfield Place. Check out the Rose Street Brewery also, one of the many public houses along this colourful back street.
The areas just beyond the Old and New Towns are peppered with good places to escape from the crowds. Beneath the south side of the castle is the rectangular Grassmarket, once an agricultural marketplace but now dominated by car parking along with some good pubs, restaurants and interesting shops. Following Castle Wynd Steps or Victoria Street off George IV Bridge can reach it. Here you find a host of little antique or curiosity shops along with the famous Brush Shop, one of the least changed stores in Edinburgh since the 1950s selling brushes of all shapes, balls of string and other household tackle.
ABERDEEN AND GRAMPIAN
The Grampian area is one of the largest regions in Scotland, comprising the former counties of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Kincardineshire and Morayshire. It is acknowledged for its quantity and quality of castles as well as whisky distilleries but there are many more natural delights found around the coast or the varied interior, which stretches all the way to Strathspey on its western side. The main route from the south to the principal city of Aberdeen is the A90. The A94, as shown on older maps still in circulation, has been re-designated as the A90 to coincide with the upgrading on the main section from Dundee to Aberdeen. This is the fastest route from central Scotland to Aberdeen but the coastal road, the A92, is more scenic and less busy.
Springing from the Grampian Mountains, the River North Esk empties into the North Sea at St Cyrus Bay and otters can be seen around the mouth of the river. Seals are other regular offshore visitors. A peculiar method of salmon fishing is employed here using vertical nets hung on stakes and stretched out into the sea. These create a unique photo opportunity.
Johnshaven and Gourdon are grey little fishing villages to the east of the A92 descended into via steep roads that lead to the shore. Further along the A92 is the larger village of Inverbervie, referred to as ‘Bervie’ by the locals. Its main historic claim to fame is that David II and his 16-year old French wife were beached here after being chased by the English. The king bestowed a Royal Charter on the town for his safe deliverance but, unbelievably, the town misplaced the document and had to apply for a replacement. The ‘Bervie’ fish and chip shop is one of the best in this area and often wins national prizes for its fare. As you approach Aberdeen’s suburbs, the outline of the grey ‘Granite City’ looms across the wide River Dee valley. The Dee once formed the city’s southern defences and the Bridge of Dee, the first bridge over the Dee, completed in 1527 and widened in 1840, still carries traffic over the river to Holburn Street which connects with the Aberdeen’s principal thoroughfare, Union Street. Alternately, carry on east towards the harbour and join Union Street at its eastern end. Either route affords the opportunity to appreciate the unique building material and architecture that characterise this imposing northern Mecca.
Aberdeen has, over the past 20 years, been dubbed the ‘Houston of the North’ due to the tremendous boom in oil production from the North Sea. Fortunately for Scotland’s third largest city, it was well placed to serve this new industry and has gained from it in many ways. Unemployment in Aberdeen stands at only around 4 per cent. Some say that Aberdeen’s rugged and propitious northern spirit has been taken over by an avaricious, commercial attitude but the essence of Aberdeen is probably, like its tough granite buildings, quite robust and should withstand this modern onslaught.
As the capital of the Grampian area, renowned for castles, it is surprising that Aberdeen no longer has one of its own. In the early 1300s the city’s fortification was burned to avoid occupation by the garrisons of Edward I. Aberdeen’s castle lay just beyond the foot of Union Street, the busy main thoroughfare linking the older part of the city to its westward expansion. Planned over 200 years ago, Union Street’s construction nearly made the city bankrupt and it is worth observing more closely the bridges and buildings that span this once very uneven terrain. Union Street is the main shopping precinct with the enclosed Bon Accord and St Nicholas Centres housing most popular shops.
From the centre of town, it is around a 15-minute bus ride to Old Aberdeen using a number 20 or any bus going north on Kings Street. If you are driving, follow Kings Street to St Machar Drive on the left and the Chanonry, the narrow lane leading to the heart of Old Aberdeen, is on the right. This is the most historic part of town that was, in fact, an independent burgh from 1489 until 1891 and it still maintains its own Town House. It also retains its air of independence with narrow, cobbled streets and well preserved seventeenth and eighteenth century architecture, quite dissimilar from that of the more modern city.
Ballater, 11 miles (18km) west of Aboyne, was the end of the line for the royal train before that railway closed. The coming of the railway to Deeside in 1867 increased its popularity and Queen Victoria travelled regularly by royal train from Windsor. Ballater Station was rebuilt to incorporate a ‘Royal Waiting Room’ but today the station is taken over by a wool shop, cafe and the royal waiting room is now council offices. Ballater first became established in the nineteenth century when an old woman discovered the healing powers of a bog at the foot of Pannanich Hill. Now it is visited for its close location to Balmoral Castle, which is only about 8 miles (13km) to the west. In town there are signs of ‘royal appointment’ above many of the shops and the Royals do drop in occasionally during their yearly summer vacation. There is a Victoria Week held every year in early August of which its highlight is the Highland Games.
Despite the ‘tourist clamour’ to soak up a piece of ‘Balmorality’ there are many other things to do in this area. Ballater golf course is one of the most charming, the surrounding hills protecting it from bad weather and creating a microclimate for the course and town. Forty miles (64km) away in Aberdeen it can be chucking it down while Ballater is bone dry. Making Treks is a shop opposite Ballater Station organising anything from pigeon shooting to quad-bikes and gliding trips. Ballater is also a great place to dine. Per head of population there are more good eating-houses than anywhere else in Britain. The Glen Lui Hotel has a fine restaurant but the meals in the Bistro, at bar prices are as edible as in the restaurant and you get a lot more on your plate.
Balmoral Castle and its grounds are open to the public through the months of May, June and July, Monday to Saturday, 10am-5pm, unless members of the Royal family are in residence although this is usually confined to the month of August. This was the sanctuary of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who had it built on the site of an older castle, commenced in 1853 and completed by 1855. The Royals on the advice of the Queen’s physician had leased the original castle and they instantly fell in love with the area. Unfortunately it was Prince Albert whose health failed and he died at the age of 40 with typhoid fever. He only enjoyed seven summers at their beloved castle and hide-away.
Despite its proximity to Balmoral, Braemar has a life of its own and is a delightful little village to stroll around. A mile or so before the village is Braemar Castle, a seventeenth century turreted outpost. Opposite the castle is an easy climb that affords a wonderful view of the village and the surrounding hills. In town, the Invercauld Arms Hotel stands on the spot where the Earl of Mar raised the Jacobite standard in 1715, and there is a plaque inside to commemorate this event. The Clunie Water clatters through the village and under a road bridge that offers invigorating views from both sides. The most important event to take place in the area is the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering held on the first Saturday in September with upwards of 50,000 people in attendance. It is a well-run affair despite the numbers, with traditional events and the eventual arrival of the royal party.
Dundee is Scotland’s fourth biggest city and is sometimes referred to as the largest village in the world. This title has, no doubt been gained by the friendliness of the natives and the fact that, when you walk down the High Street, everyone seems to know one another. Dundee’s river-front situation is noted for its fine views over the Tay to Fife and an exceptionally rich hinterland of mountains, moorland and farms.
Through the past two centuries, Dundee has been a working-class town with large numbers employed in the jute and textile industries. This industrial base has now all but disappeared leaving the town with one of the highest rates of unemployment in Scotland. Despite efforts to brush up its image and attract more inward investment, recent militant action and the departure of several large companies from the industrial scene is about all that has attracted media attention. Despite this, the city retains a certain earthy quality that visitors seem to enjoy.
A walk north along Reform Street brings you to another group of distinctive buildings, the most impressive of which is the Victorian McManus Galleries containing the city’s principal museum and art gallery. The museum building, a splendid Gothic showpiece, contains an over-all impression of the area’s history from the prehistoric Picts to the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. There is a re-creation of an old pub with its original mahogany bar as well as insights into the town’s social fabric. Upstairs, the Albert Hall contains sculptures, silver and displays of furnishings while paintings from Dutch, Finish, French and British artists as well as frequent contemporary exhibitions are found in the Victoria Gallery. The Gallery Café is found on the lower level and is good for a morning or afternoon snack but be wary at lunch time when, judging by the wait to be served, the staff seem to be taking their lunch break also.
The dark-red sandstone building opposite the gallery is the headquarters of the D.C. Thomson empire, publishers of universally cherished titles such as the Sunday Post, People’s Friend, the Scot’s Magazine, the Dandy and the Beano comics and many more popular journals. Across the road is Dundee’s oldest burial ground, the Howff, a fascinating place to stroll through if you enjoy tombstones from as far back as 1567. The Barrack Street Museum, in sight to the west, specialises in natural history.
One of the most interesting buildings that survived the many conflicts of Dundee’s past is the Old Steeple or St Mary’s Tower just west of the City Square, reached by following Barrack Street south through the Overgate. This fifteenth-century tower is a fragment of the largest medieval church in Scotland, burnt down in 1841. The City Churches now surrounding the tower, are nineteenth century.
For an overall view of the city and its surrounds, it is possible to drive 571 feet (174m) above sea level to the top of a volcanic plug, the Dundee Law. In 1831, Scotland’s first passenger railway, the Dundee to Newtyle line, ran through a tunnel under this hill, now blocked off. Balgay Hill is clearly seen from here and is the site for Britain’s only permanently manned public astronomical telescope at Mills Observatory.
The Tay Rail Bridge, which you can clearly appreciate from the Law, was built between 1871 and 1878, designed by Sir Thomas Bouch. The first narrow, poorly designed structure collapsed in 1879 giving rise to the death of 90 passengers on board a train which happened to be crossing at the time. The second and existing construction is 2 miles (3 1/2km) long supported by 86 piers. The stumps of the original bridge can still be seen alongside the present piers.
From the south, there are four main routes into the Scottish Borders, each offering a particular introduction to this distinctive region. The upgraded A1 follows the east coast and is the easiest to drive with long stretches of dual-carriageway and pleasant coastal views. The alternative A68 through Carters Bar is undulating and scenic although slightly more demanding for the driver. It crosses the pastoral and hilly heart of Borders country. The A697 through Coldstream is similar and from the west the A7, signposted from the M6 as the tourist route for the Borders and Edinburgh, passes through the market towns of Hawick and Selkirk. <br.
Despite acting as a crash barrier through many tumultuous centuries between Britain’s two largest countries, the Borders is now one of the most peaceful and gentle of Scottish regions. Its rolling country roads and picturesque villages, compared to other regions, are quiet, even at their busiest times. In the east, quilted rolling landscapes are occasionally interrupted by higher elevations such as the Eildon Hills, whereas the west is more remote and wild in character. The larger towns of Hawick, Jedburgh and Peebles are more greatly influenced by the modern world with super-stores set next to woolly jumper and fishing tackle shops.
The river Tweed contributes immensely to the character of the region. Therefore the Borders are famous for fishing with salmon beats, depending on the season, available throughout the district. Trout fishing is also available from March to October on some rivers. The area’s history has contributed greatly to local traditions and perhaps even the local disposition. A predominant and persistent factor over nearly 400 years was the aggression between Scotland and its southerly neighbour, England. Between 1296 and the Union of the Crowns in the early seventeenth century, the Borders was a battleground (or the main route to one) between the two constantly warring nations. This virtual no-man’s-land, as it became, fell into a lawless state where robbery and cattle stealing were rife, even amongst close neighbours. Not until the Union of the Crowns did the wild Borders settle into the peaceful province that it is today.</br.