Back in the UK with 1 more day of work under our belt (only the one) we were headed for New Years in Scotland. A Megabus overnight journey up, which was cold and uncomfortable, reminded us of our Bolivian experience, less the potholes. Arriving in Edinburgh at 7am wasn’t much of an issue and by pure chance the apartment we had booked was across the road. We slept on the couches in the lounge till everyone else (10 others) got up.
After a dozy walk through small Christmas markets, past the ferris wheel and carnival rides we started winding up the streets to Edinburgh Castle to take a tour. Armourers, showed us the variety of weapons including pikes, swords and the matchlock musket. Various idioms we found stem from the use of matchlock muskets, including; flash in the pan, useless git and biting the bullet. We saw the Scottish Crown jewels which were kept hidden for many years from the English. These sat beside the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish coronation which was confiscated and placed under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey till about 20 years ago.We also got to see the large stores of fireworks for the New Years festivities that night. No smoking was allowed…
Moving back down the high street we wandered aimlessly back to get some food and booze. Mitch found and cooked up a haggis – a mix of oats and sheep guts. We didn’t manage any whisky, but still had some Icelandic Moss Schnapps – a potent brew. Mitch’s mission was to eat, over the next few days, as much haggis, scotch pies, macaroni pies, irn bru, fudge and shortbread as he could. He does this in most countries with the local junk food…
We moved into the streets to join the party which as the night wore on, became more and more packed, eventually becoming shoulder to shoulder, starting a bit of barging close to the countdown. Once the countdown finished the place became a bit easier to breath, even in the smoke of the 5 minute long fireworks display. Jeremy, our flatmate had a table booked in 5 storied pub, where the party carried on late to 4am. Rising late near midday we day wandered up to Arthurs Seat. Hoping to see Dogmanay in Holyrood Park, but unfortunately the sled dog races were not being held this year. We did, on the way though, manage to see most of Edinburgh and sweated out most of the hangover climbing with our full packs. Down in the harbour the Loony Dook celebrations were going on and some crazies took it upon themselves to go for a swim.
After another lunch with haggis – Tam was not liking the effect it had on Mitch – strong spices meant strong smells (especially later in the car). Picking up the rental we drove north to Aberdeen. The sun set at 4pm and rise at 9am, so we had to make the most of what daylight we were given, meaning a lot of miles in the dark.
The next day, an early morning drive through Aberdeen set us up for a sunrise out at Dunnottar Castle, famous for protecting the Crown Jewels. We sneaked around trying to find way in but as it was 2nd January, is a public holiday in Scotland (not England) nothing was open. Headed inland to into the National Park we got near Balmoraland saw the landscape famous for being the royals home away from home. The day before (NYE) a woman was gored by a stag in Scotland and was currently in intensive care. Lucky we didn’t come too close to any spooked animals.
Continuing along the Highland Tourist Route (meanwhile having to call our incompetent Property Agent for our new flat), seeing a very mushy and muddy ski field, we made it to Inverness and onward to the famous Loch Ness. We didn’t see a monster at all, so were very disappointed – rip off. We did find several Scottish themed gift shops lining the Loch… With the sun setting we carried on towards the Isle of Skye to our accommodation in a Broadford backpackers. The Isle of Skye is famous for it’s spectacular views. Problem was, we couldn’t see it and there was nothing to do apart from hanging out in the musty backpackers with the old Australian man in his Wallabies jersey. Wandering around the village we found a Spanish/Scottish restaurant and sat as their only customers for the next 2 hours.
As daylight broke the views didn’t get much better.The rain and fog shrouded most of the dramatic landscapes and we didn’t manage to see much, but got to Kilt Rock and Eilean Donan Castle. On this day, there was a massive storm in the UK with 8m swells in SW England. After a few pictures of a few stags on the roadside we drove back south through another pass, past the Ben Nevis (UK’s highest peak) and Glen Coe to Stirling. Along the way, we stopped at the Glenfinnian Monument, more famous for being next to the rail bridge in Harry Potter.
Stirling at night was again, not a very big vibe. Walking into the local pub on a Friday night was, at best, awkward. Our expensive, yet empty hostel managed to put us in the room with leaking noisy windows and rotting carpet. However, next morning we weren’t disappointed with Stirling Castle – royal residence of 16th Century Scottish Kings James IV, James V, and James VI and birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. Renaissance Castle of grand proportions built for a King and his Queen. The guides were really informative and in full dress and even acted the part.
Nearby, on the opposite crag, the William Wallace memorial stood over the famous Stirling battleground where he led Scottish armies to defeat King Edwards forces (one of the most powerful at the time) by funneling them over a bridge and attacking them at the bottleneck. This battle gave birth to the song Flower of Scotland and stands proud in the national identity. on 18th September 2014, Scotland will vote in a referendum for its independence. It will be interesting to see the result.
Our drive through Glasgow took us back to Edinburgh where, to kill some time on a Saturday night, we watched a movie and went from pub to pub while waiting for the night bus back to London. The pubs were not as lively as in Ireland and it is very rare to get one that accepts any form of card.
To start with, the bus ride back was quite nice. We had the whole back seat to ourselves until about 1am when we arrived in Newcastle and were joined by about 30 of the most obnoxious people who, over the next few hours managed to keep everyone awake. Back in London we got a good day of catch up and tidying the flat. We are preparing to move into our new flat by the river in a month and dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with property agents over here is not as straight forward as back home. With not much travel planned over the winter, we are looking at what else we can do to pass the time.