Road Trips: A Day in Scotland

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One of the weirdest things to get used to was the wheel on the right side! Driving on the left side got easier throughout the day. But boy were there times we all forgot.

This past September, I spent three weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland for a travel writing internship. There I met numerous people and some wonderful flat mates. Towards the end, we had spent so much time in the city that we wanted to go check out some more of Scotland. We heard about the highlands and other beaches, even a castle up on a hill! We decided to take a road trip for a day. It seemed a simple idea, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated in the beginning.

 

Booking the Car

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The night before the trip, we went online and booked a car through the Edinburgh Airport. It didn’t cost too much for a day, but we had to have a credit card. Since I was the only one with one, I put it on mine. Simple enough, right?

Early the next morning, we boarded the bus with all our snacks, cameras, and goodies for the trip. We were ready to take a good drive and get out. See something new! As we pulled into the rental car area at the airport, we were met with more than a few obstacles.

The guy didn’t seem too friendly. He was tired and irritable. Among our group were three Germans, a Mexican, and a Texan. We talked to the guy, showed him our paperwork, the credit card, and ID. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. Then came the hiccup…

He said he couldn’t rent us the car since I was under 25. They have this same law in the states, and sometimes you can get around it if you pay a bit more. I asked him how much it would be for a down payment for the insurance. The price he rattled off was a lot and that was in pounds too! It was almost double in U.S. dollars.

We asked him to switch the name for the car to be under one of the girls over 25. He said of course, but they needed a credit card under that name. That wasn’t going to work. He continued to give us the run around for the next hour and a half… at least.

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I was getting to the point of calling it quits. There was nothing we could do, and we kept answering the same questions without any progress. It wasn’t until the guy finally said that he could have us pay a small non-refundable fee of 60£ to rent the car and only the two old enough would be able to drive it. Why couldn’t he say something earlier? That’s what we wanted. The rest of us didn’t care whether we got to drive the car. We just wanted to hit the road.

We checked out the small car to ensure everything was good to go. Fortunately, the two girls driving knew standard. The states have ruined us all. We’re suckers for automatics now.

The man handed us the keys and we put our things in the trunk then got into the tiny car. And boy was it cramped. We became real close that day. I don’t see how they can drive in those cars all the time. It may say five seats, but it’s more like four.

 

Road Trip Map

Road+Trip+Stops

 

First Stop – St Andrews

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We wanted to start of the day right and hit up the beach. Some of the other girls in the project had mentioned it saying it was better than Portobello which was near Edinburgh.

On the way there, we crossed fields of wheat and corn and drove over lakes. Each town was gorgeous, with some buildings towering above others built centuries ago.

As we pulled into St Andrews, we found it to be a quaint town. It was quiet and hardly anyone was out. The square had unique shops from gardening and groceries to a tasty ice cream parlor. It took us a bit to find a spot, and figure out which way the cars were going. We still weren’t used to driving on the left side of the road.

The first place we checked out was the ice cream parlor. It was supposed to be a cold day, but the sun had other plans. We were shedding our layers minute by minute. The ice cream helped cool us down, and we grabbed a bottle of Irn Bru. This is one of the tastiest sodas I’ve ever had. It’s only found in Scotland. People either hate it or love it. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between. Some say it tastes like an energy drink or medicine, but I always thought it tasted like bubble gum with a slight hint of orange (a whole lot better than the Big Reds we have at home.)

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The original cathedral was built in the 8th century when Christianity was beginning to take its roots in northern Scotland. It was dedicated to St. Andrew; hence, the name. It was finished in 1160 and became one of the most sought out cathedrals in the area. Even Robert Bruce (who’s statue you can see in Stirling) and John Knox visited the church. Unfortunately, Knox’s visit was unpleasant. He went against the Catholics at the time and incited people to turn against their faith and desecrate the church. They left only the remains of this once glorious Gothic cathedral to sit idly along the shores.

Grabbing our things, we headed out to the beach. On our way there we came across the ruins of an old church. Soot stained the creases and crumbled pieces lay on the ground. Grave stones were scattered in the back. It was St Andrews Cathedral. We walked through only part of it, but the remnants of the entrance were magnificent. It was hard to imagine the beauty it must’ve possessed back at its pinnacle.

As we made our way to the beach, we saw fishermen cleaning out their cages and the smell of fish consumed the area. It was oddly nice. This was Scotland. The rough fishermen living in a quaint town.

The walkway we were following led to the beach which broke down and away from the grass. The sand was golden and the water lapped softly. There was a pier to the left which was made from stones of the ruined castle further back on the coastline. Barnacles covered the bottom portion of it and only a few birds flew around.

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Laying out our jackets for blankets, we set the food down. It wasn’t too much but a good variety. We had baguettes, hot dogs, chips, bananas, grapes, cheese, cookies, and all sorts of things. Honestly, it was one of the tastiest lunches I’ve ever had.

We played in the water and relaxed in the sun. One of the girls said a lot of people head out to the beach to get away and to relax. It was something they did all the time, like it was no brainer. If we had clean quiet beaches like these, people in Texas would jump on them in a heartbeat as well. It was calming and a good way to escape.

Sitting on the beach, I slowly began to remember why I got into writing in the first place. My mind began to settle and go back to simpler times. Times before I hit college, and my writing fervor was shot down.

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The castle was built around 1200 as a place for the ruling Bishop. Throughout the years, the castle was a home to reside in, a fortress, and a prison. It was sieged numerous times during the Scottish Wars of Independence, and once was almost completely ruined so the English wouldn’t retake the glorious place.
After years of rebuilding the castle, it became the infamous prison during the 15th and 16th centuries. Numerous murders were committed here, from burning a man at the stake to hanging the Archbishop Beaton from a tower, this sight has seen its horrors during the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. John Knox was once allowed into the castle during a siege which ended in favor of Protestants.

Before we left, I had to see the ruins of the castle. There was no way I was going to miss that. Luckily, one of the other girls was as fascinated with it. It was a short distance away, and sat on the edge of a small cliff.

There were some remnants of what used to be towers, but most of it’s rubble today. You can book a tour to see the site, but you can also get a good view from the outside when you’re on a time crunch.

 

Second Stop – Stirling

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Before we even arrived at the castle, I begged the girls to stop by this wide-open field. There were Scottish cows and one was next to the wooden fence. They thought I was crazy. Of course, the girl from Texas would want to stop to see the cattle. Why wouldn’t I? These guys were the friendliest and fluffiest creatures.

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We went over and pet the big guy. They were a bit hesitant at first, but loved him. Other people stopped as well to see the guy and take photos. It was the perfect picture. The cattle and the field in front and the castle rising high on the cliff. What more could you ask for?

There was supposedly a walk way up to the castle, but we decided to drive. The roads were small and steep. It seemed as if we were stepping back into the Medieval era. One with nights in shining armor and crusades.

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Centuries ago, Stirling Castle housed Mary Queen of Scots along with other royal members. Robert the Bruce’s mother spent most of her time ruling here while her son was abroad fighting in the Crusades. The placement of the castle enabled members to see all the corners of their land. Any invader daring to make an attempt to ride up with an army would surely be seen.

Winding our way up through the confining buildings, we eventually reached the top. We paid a small 5 pound fee and parked closer to the castle. This way we saved time and could get to the next place. Years ago, the parking area was created by firing explosives and leveling it to the ground. It was used as a practice area for Scottish soldiers.

Stirling Castle, like many others of its time, looks like well fortified fortress from the outside, but on the inside there is the softer, sensual side. The castle is barricaded and fortified on two sides by a sheer cliff.

IMG_1318We stepped into the inner court, but didn’t go inside the castle. There wasn’t enough time and it was a bit pricey. (I won’t lie. If I had gone in there I would’ve spent the rest of the day.) We were able to climb up and stand on the inside of the wall for a view of the land. It was a gorgeous sight. Miles of land continued to stretch far beyond the eye could see and hills gently jutted up here and there. It was a windy place, but peaceful.

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An ice cream truck was situated in outside of the castle. They were serving ice cream of all colors with chocolate sticks jutting out. Needless to say, I grabbed one of those. It was refreshing since the day continued to heat up. None of us were expecting it to be hot. We all wore sweaters, jeans, scarves, and boots. While I grabbed some ice cream, the others checked out a small store and grabbed some beers and soda before we headed on our way to the next stop.

 

Final Stop – Loch Lomond

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Loch Lomond has been a site for settlers for centuries. Early Christians used to settle here due to the solitude. There are about 38 islands in this lake which makes it necessary to have boats or canoes in the area. The loch is part of a national park which aims to provide a safe haven for animals such as deer, eagles, and even wallabies. Yes, the wallabies is a bit odd, but they were brought to the location around the 1970’s.
At the lake, you can go fishing, canoeing, sailing, hiking, biking, almost anything you can think of. There are a wide variety of activities. If you want to explore more of the park, there are other features such as golfing as well.

Finding the parking area was hard for Loch Lomond. We took a wrong turn and drove down a narrow rode. It continued for quite a long time, long enough we knew we needed to turn around. Heading back the same way, we decided to take the other road. The lake is located in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park which is ginormous.

We came upon several small houses nestled in the nooks of pine trees and hills by the lake. It was something out of a book. There was a small restaurant on the left and a boat dock up ahead. They had canoes and paddle boards you could rent, but when it was as cold as it was I couldn’t see anyone jumping in. With that being said, there were a couple of girls who were going out paddle boarding. They didn’t go too far and were careful not to fall in often.

The road took us further into the woods. Moss covered stones and if I looked hard enough, I could imagine a troll popping out. The road seemed to narrow even more. The trees opened up to a small dock and a dead end. People were fishing off the dock or reading the historic plaque in the circle drive. We slowly drove in and it said no parking allowed. We felt terrible for driving down there. Maybe cars weren’t allowed, but why would they have a road? Quickly, we turned around and headed back to the restaurant and found some parking.

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We headed back to the place we were at as soon as possible. It wasn’t a long walk, and the trees provided enough shade we needed our jackets again. At the edge of the lake (loch) we could see off into the distance.

Mountains and small islands dotted the loch. There was a small house far off in the distance. It seemed quaint and a good place to farm. The waves lapped against the shore. Water glistened in the late afternoon sun. It was hard to see without sun glasses, but putting them on would only taint the beauty. When I say this, I’m serious. I’ve never seen something so bountiful in color. You get the chance to get away from the city and relax outdoors.

There were several trails, some full of rocks, which people could hike, but we didn’t have time. We sat on the rocks along the shore and relaxed. It had been a good day and unfortunately our time in Scotland was coming to an end.

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Before heading home, we stopped at the restaurant we saw. We weren’t too hungry so we got small meals. I tried some beef with Yorkshire pudding and had some water with it. The others got pizza, fish, or a kids platter (which looked amazing!) If you haven’t had Yorkshire pudding, it’s not what it sounds like. It’s a plain bread that goes great with almost any meat or soup.

We sat outside and relaxed a bit. The sun was beginning to set. Yellow, orange, and pink hues began to settle upon the emerald trees. The restaurant seemed to come alive and people were getting ready to head home. We were among those heading home since we had to get the car back in time.

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A road trip in Scotland is nothing like Texas. It takes four hours to get somewhere in Texas at times. Scotland, you can head over to the coast, up into the hills, over to the loch, and back to Edinburgh in no time. Everything is close yet diverse.

Discovering Scotland with my flat mates was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. We grew closer and saw numerous unique sites. We had fun playing at the beach and exploring the loch. We tried some new drinks and treats and figured out the new system of driving on the other side of the road. (The traffic circles didn’t help either.)

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All I can say is if you have the chance to go on a road trip in Scotland take it! You’ll get to explore the countryside and parts most people don’t venture off to. Yes, Edinburgh is wonderful and full of history, but it’s also the city. People fill the streets and there’s always a clambering noise. There are rare moments at night when a hush falls upon the city, but it’s nothing like being out at the lake. A road trip in Scotland can be done in a day!

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