Before actually going there, I held in my mind the Scotland of films and stories—a rainy, windswept land inhabited by huge, mashing men with meaty forearms and brogues. The Scotland that greeted me, however was far less brooding. It was conversely: warm, bright and emerald green. A vertical landscape of crescendoing hills, roads tipping up and up and serpentine lochs flecked with misty isles, stone cottages and of course, castles.
We started off in Glasgow where, we hopped off the train at bustling Glasgow Central and headed to the west end for a stroll in Kelvingrove Park—a spread of gardens and grassy knolls beneath the Harry Potter-ish spires of Glasgow University. At Stravaigin, we ate haggis and drank pints and from there, found our way to Oran Mor, an eclectic, old bar that was once a church. In the evening, it was downtown for nightcaps with local host, Henry and talk of travel and literature at the stylishly spare Old Hairdresser’s ...
GLASGOW IN PHOTOS
From Glasgow we drove north on A82, King Creosote on the stereo and me—grimacing and swearing as I maneuvered a right-hand drive manual through the endless roundabouts. In less than an hour we arrived at Trossachs National Park where we caught our first glimpse of Loch Lomond, its shores brimming with swimmers, picnickers, and people dining at the outdoor cafe or in line for ice cream. As we surveyed the pleasant scene, we knew there was only one thing to do—rent a speed boat.
Thirty minutes and £80 later, we motored out of the cove, dodging the Queen’s swans, paddle boaters and kayakers, staying carefully aligned between the buoys that guided us into open water. When we had cleared the shallows, Aidan gleefully slammed down the throttle and we hurtled across the lake's shimmering surface, flanked on either side by steep, grassy slopes, houses scattered like toys at their feet and the solid shadow of Ben Lomond rising in the distance.
“You can stop off at any island you like,” the rental agent had said. “Just secure the boat.”
And so, we cut the motor and drifted towards a small isle encircled by trees; a living room for ducks and invisible songbirds twittering from the tops of gnarled branches. I struck out across a floor of springing moss, camera in hand, drawn by the forest's symphony of creaks and rustles.
LOCH LOMOND IN PHOTOS
North of Loch Lomond, as we drove further up A82, the contours of the land painted themselves into the sunset. We veered off at Glen Etive (below), a scenic spot tucked like a pop-up postcard between golden hillocks where, a series of waterfalls thundered into a bubbling stream that cleaved rocky earth.
As the light faded, we drove east to Loch Rannoch. Then, north to the village of Drumnadrochit on legendary Loch Ness, stopping off for all the Highland essentials—tea at Muckrach lodge, cider at Benleva, a tour of Urquart Castle and visit to the British Commando Memorial.
By our third day in the Highlands, we regarded the scenery with a sort of dazed stupor—endless, glittering valleys, herds of deer bounding in meadows, horses and sheep grazing in paddocks. Even the exotic appearance of a farmer's peacock seemed staged as it sauntered across a country road, enormous tail feathers splayed ...
THE HIGHLANDS IN PHOTOS
Oh, but I could have stayed much longer; could have easily forgiven Scotland its relentless, nauseating beauty. The landscape offers up all the rugged idyll and allure of a Burns poem, the people are kind and high-spirited, the cider is top notch. And haggis? Strangely underrated, it turns out. As our flight to London took off, I was consoled by the thought that there is still so much to see. Next time.
If you’ve ever had the slightest inclination to tour or even stop briefly in Scotland, do yourself a favor—think no more. Just go.
Editor's Note: Special thanks to Henry for the hospitality and convo and Aidan for the navigating, boat driving, poetry and exquisite taste in music.