Dispatches: A Scottish Holiday
While most people embrace the tradition of Thanksgiving and the annual get together, filled with food, football and gluttonous stomach cramps, we tend to embrace discounted international flights and businesses being open during America’s November holiday. Keeping up with traditions, the sights were set on Scotland for this year’s Thanksgiving abroad.
Having never visited England’s neighbor to the north we were eager to see & do as much as possible within a few days. The docket consisted of a short visit to the capital city, Edinburgh, followed by an exploratory loop through the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. The itinerary was ambitious to say the least, especially considering the highlands loop came along with a suggested two-week timetable. Paying no attention, we held the course.
Edinburgh is a confident city that doesn’t need to brag. Set around a hilltop castle that’s visible from nearly every vantage point within the city, the atmosphere is modest, organized and welcoming. It’s easy to feel out-of-place in foreign cities, while the exact opposite can be said of Edinburgh, where the balance of foreign and familiar run even keel. Naturally, a decent mix of good pubs are peppered throughout town, each offering a respectable selection of scotch and local fare. For some finer alternatives for both food and shopping (think: tartan, tweed and scotch), head south toward the National Museum.
While Edinburgh is easily one of the most visitable cities out there, the Highlands pull no punches and may very well be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Within an hour outside of Edinburgh, just past Glasgow, the real magic happens. The scenery is endless, untouched and in many ways, perfect. Changing with each turn, the landscape is rugged and unforgiving. Low hanging clouds cast endless shadows across miles of unpopulated land, less the occasional herd of sheep, farm or castle. After a day on the road and a ferry from Malliag you’re on Skye where similar to the mainland, nature calls the shots. Raw and barren, Skye seems almost fake. During the winter months, the light stands in a state of constant afternoon with the sun setting not long after lunch. The whole place is surreal.
After a week of walking and driving, it was clear why people recommended a stay of two weeks or more. Our traditional escape scratched the surface at best but offers the perfect segue into a return trip. The second round will afford a glimpse into all that was missed – textiles, scotch distilleries and a ride aboard the Royal Scotsman easily make the cut. Until next time.
If you go: We recommend staying at the Balmoral Hotel (Edinburgh), it’s central, efficient and has a good bar. On Skye, bed & breakfasts are the only real options and Tigh an Dochais tops the list. Blackfriars (Edinburgh) has a terrific menu that changes regularly. Drinks (Edinburgh), although it’s on the Royal Mile and comes with all things touristic, Deacon Brodies Tavern is great, on the nicer side, the bar at the Balmoral or The Scotsman will do just fine. In term of things to see, visit the castle in Edinburgh (it’s worth it), Dovecot Studios offers a first hand glimpse into all that goes into woven textiles and the Royal Museum (pictured) is well worth a stop. On Skye, visit the Talisker Distillery, it’s among the oldest in Scotland and the only one on Skye.