Over the past few years we have spent well over six months travelling around Scotland and we feel we have come to know it quite well. To tell you the truth this is our favourite country in the world, as far as we have yet seen at least. That is not to say that it is perfect, here is our guide to the very best and the worst bits of Scotland.
Best: The Wilderness
Many people say that the UK does not have any wilderness left, my response is that they obviously don’t know Scotland very well. There is some seriously remote places to discover, many miles from civilisation. Scotland has the most wonderful terrain in the UK for outdoor pursuits, nowhere else compares when it comes to beauty and any description I could give pales in comparison with the true magnificence of these places. The crystal clear lochs, massive imposing peaks and deep forests, require a visit so that you can know their true beauty. Any photo’s that you see are a kind of vague idea of their exquisiteness, no camera can capture their true essence. I feel very privileged to have seen such things.
Worst: The Climate
It’s famously bad isn’t it? The mountainous regions can experience four seasons in one day at any time of year. If you do not like the weather, often all you have to do is wait five minutes for it may be completely different.
We have been lucky enough to see some remarkable zoological specimens on our travels around this remarkable country. We have had some fantastic sightings of deer, a brief encounter with a Wild Cat and watched a White tailed Eagle fishing to name just a few, but this is nothing to what is out there. I, for one, would LOVE to see a Pine Martin, a Whale Shark or an Orca, and none of this is out of the question or is even unlikely in this wondrous land.
Worst: The tourist industry
Scotland is a busy place with tourists and is getting busier all the time, fortunately they are concentrated in a few certain places and the vast majority of places are still deadly quiet. Edinburgh is badly affected by visitor numbers, but the worst affected has to be the Isle of Skye. See our Isle of Skye Guide here. Numbers aside, the biggest problem in my opinion are the predators that lie in wait for these hapless, innocent visitors. Everything and anything in a tourist area is horrifyingly expensive, it is as if every Scot has a family of six morbidly obese children at home that only eat cold hard currency, or that the only thing to stand up to the weather up here are bricks made of compressed banknotes, such is the hunger for money. I hate to uphold stereotypes, but this one is absolutely true i’m afraid.
Best: The Coastline
Scotland has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sea has a clarity that I have never seen elsewhere, the sand is pristine and soft and most importantly, totally deserted. We have arrived at the top of a hill and just stood aghast at the sight before us, a perfect azure sea and a pale beach over a mile long backed by dark imposing mountains in the distance. Not another person to be seen. The dramatic cliffs support a bewildering array of sea birds (we are still yet to see a Puffin however hard we try) and the rocky foreshore the most fascinating crustaceans and plant life.
Worst: The History
Attempts are made to tell the visitor that the history of Scotland is a proud one, the truth however is rather different. Yes the stories surrounding Robert the Bruce and William Wallace are both inspiring and heroic but these are not the rule I’m afraid, The vast majority of recorded Scottish history is a history of paranoia, blood and violence. They fought amongst themselves for centuries, one glen against the next. They couldn’t even unite to fight the English, many Scots fought on the English side (probably for money, lets face it) and suffered terribly for it. Today Scottish Heritage ruins many ancient sites with slap-dash “restoration” projects (Stirling castle) and the money hungry attitude we see elsewhere. Edinburgh castle has no fewer that five gift shops, two cafés and very little of interest to be honest, oh yeah and a £17 entry fee. Other sites that they are unable to make money off are neglected and forgotten.
Best: The History
The ancient history of Scotland is amazing. Stone circles of epic proportions like the Callanish stones on Lewis, the 5000 year old village of Skara Brae and the enigmatic ‘cup and ring’ carvings in Kilmartin are just as important as the ancient ritual landscape around Stone Henge. Because of their remoteness the levels of preservation of these sites is often excellent, Broch’s are great towers dating to the Iron age and some still stand six meters high, these features are unique to Scotland and are a real treasure.
Worst and Best: The People
Scotland has some of the most down to earth, friendly and helpful people in the UK. The sense of humour is good, these people are very able to laugh at themselves and dish out good humour too. Scotland has some of the most miserable and unhelpful bastards ever to walk planet Earth too. If you have a foreign accent (Especially an English one) some of these small minds will have no time for you at all. It’s just a good job they are the minority in this most wonderful of countries.
Worst: The Roads
Generally the roads are adequate, even the single track roads up on the West coast are well maintained. What they can’t seem to get the hang of though is maintaining the surface of the lay-bys next to the road. They are often so pot holed as to be unusable, very frustrating when the road right next to them is immaculate. The roads on Skye are not up to the job of dealing with the volumes of traffic, combine this with a general lack of driving ability and it can be a total nightmare.
Best: Sunsets and rainbows
This country has some fantastic sunsets and THE best rainbows anywhere. It is hard to believe quite how vivid the colours can be, they literally stop traffic sometimes, everyone getting out with their cameras.
Worst: Towns and cities
Apart from the odd few Scottish towns and cities are generally run down and ugly. Even some of the Georgian buildings are built in such an austere style and out of such a depressing colour of stone that the sash windows can end up giving the impression of window bars. Whole streets can end up looking like prisons. Well maintained towns like Oban for example are designed to siphon as much out of tourist bank accounts as possible, here it is impossible to buy something useful. If you want a postcard, fridge magnet, some expensive whisky, a tartan anything or some heather then your laughing however.
Best: The Geology
Scotland has a massive ‘Geopark’ with some very good information signs explaining how the amazing formations were formed. Scotland has some of the oldest rocks on Earth and also some of the most interesting fossils. Caithness is the best place in the world for studying truly rare Devonian fossil fish, about which there are still great evolutionary mystery’s.
For the most part, the Scottish never really got the hang of castles. They are either rather like sturdily built manor houses or ridiculous Disney princess castles. Quite frankly English, and
especially Welsh castles make them look like dolls houses. Of course they have Scottish Heritage looking after many of them too so what hope do they have? Some are good however, ‘proper castles’ like Caerlaverock castle near Dumfries.