Scotland is a small country but full of history, culture, and breathtaking scenery. My Scotland journey was an itinerary designed by Globus family of brands, and a new touring style called “Choice Touring”. The tour was named “Hot Tam! Scotland by Design”, a wonderful mix of sightseeing, free time, and the ease and comfort of a tour, accompanied by an experienced and passionate tour manager who was part historian and part entertainer.
We started in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, a university town, and one of the most culturally rich cities in Europe. The old medieval town features gothic architecture, the Royal Mile, and the impressive Edinburgh Castle, the sight of the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival during the month of August.
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Victoria Street, Holyrood Palace, & The Scottish Parliament
The castle grounds includes; the war memorial; the oldest building in the city, the 12th century St. Margaret’s Chapel; the crown jewels; and the birthplace of King James VI, the son of Mary Queen of Scots and the only monarch born at Edinburgh Castle.
The old town is also famous for Victoria Street, lined with the colorful houses that served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. Nearby is Elephant House Cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in this relaxed reader/writer coffee and cake café (temporarily closed due to a fire). There are walking tours to see various locations in the area for Harry Potter fans. Also nearby is the lively Grassmarket, a public square lined with pubs, restaurants, and shops, with a gruesome history of centuries past.
At the other end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. In between is the World’s End Bar, located just inside the gate of the medieval city wall, built to keep invaders out and once considered too dangerous to go outside the wall. Nowadays, the bar is known for cask ales, its large selection of Scottish whiskies, Belhaven beer, and specialty burgers on the food menu.
The new town area of Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest and most impressive city center neighborhoods of Georgian and neo-classical architecture in the world. Popular George Street and Princes Street are main shopping streets.
The Royal Yacht
Another unique sight to visit while in Edinburgh is the Royal Yacht, which was retired some years ago, and sits in the harbor in the seaside suburb of Leith. The grandeur of this ship, not really a yacht, is the understated elegance of the royal family’s living quarters, particularly the state dining room, where celebrities and heads-of-state dined with the Queen, and the adjacent living room where the family gathered in the evening after dinner. While the rooms are not opulent as you might think in terms of a royal palace, but the gifts, photos, and mementos that line the walls of the dining room are quite impressive and so meaningful in the life of Queen Elizabeth. This alone is worth the visit. I felt quite privileged to have this opportunity for an inside look at the life of the royal family.
St. Andrews, The Oldest Golf Club In The World
On the next day, our group was on the move, crossing the Firth of Forth using the Queensferry Crossing bridge into the Kingdom of Fife, a peninsula home to Culross and the fictional village of Cranesmuir in Outlander. Fife is also home to St. Andrews, the oldest golf club in the world dating back to 1843. After a walk on one of the famed links courses of St. Andrews, we had a short drive over the River Tay, the longest river in Scotland to Dundee; home to the V&A Design Museum, the first Victoria and Albert Museum outside London; the Royal Research Ship Discovery which in 1900 carried Captain Scott and crew on the first expedition to Antarctica; and the invention of video game Grand Theft Auto.
Afterwards, we had a scenic drive up to Pitlochry for a two-night stay at the historic Scottish baronial style, Atholl Palace. Located in the countryside just outside town, the hotel grounds features, tall-gigantic trees, thick foliage, hiking trails, tennis courts, a croquet lawn, and benches and ponds for relaxing thoughts in a peaceful setting. The town of Pitlochry has a pleasant shopping area, nice restaurants, and many bed and breakfast accommodations. Several whiskey distilleries are scattered in the area. One of the most well-known, and very accessible from town, is the Blair Athol Distillery, which features a tasting room, large attractive store, and offers distillery tours through its historic buildings.
Pitlochry & Dewar’s Distillery
Outside of Pitlochry, near rivers and streams teaming with fish, is the town of Aberfeldy, home to Dewar’s Distillery. Not far from here is the spectacular sixteenth century Castle Menzies, where our group was treated to afternoon tea accompanied by sandwiches, scones, and sweets.
Leaving Pitlochry on the next day, we visited Blair Castle and Gardens, residence of the Atholl family for seven centuries, frequented by Queen Victoria and film location for some scenes of Downton Abbey. You can’t miss the nine-acre walled garden called the Hercules Garden, named for the statue of Hercules overlooking the garden, which contains over 100 fruit trees.
Balmoral Castle is not far from this location, but our Globus tour did not go in that direction. Instead, we headed to Cawdor Castle, the ancestral home of the Campbell family. The castle is known to Shakespeare fans as Macbeth’s castle, although, there are many sites in and around Inverness and the region referred to in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Cawdor Castle is eight miles from the Culloden Battlefield, a key location in the TV series Outlander. Historically, the Culloden Battlefield was the bloody site of the last battle of the Jacobite uprising in 1745 against the English redcoat army.
Not far from the Culloden Battlefield in a beautiful, wooded area is Clava Cairns, a 4000-year-old Bronze Age cemetery with standing stones, monuments, and stone circles. The sacred burial cairns or mounds have become a popular tourist site as travelers from all over the world visit to have their photo taken by the stones where the character Claire Randall is transported back in time where she falls in love with Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series.
By late afternoon, we arrived in Inverness, called the capital of the Scottish Highlands, and its residents are outdoor enthusiasts with many recreational areas nearby. Famous Loch Ness is just outside the city and is 23 miles long to the southwest of the city. The 60-mile Caledonian canal, constructed in the early 18th century, connects the west of Scotland to the east of Scotland at Inverness and is famous for its swing bridges.
Outlander and Games of Thrones Film Sites
Traveling the length of Loch Ness, there are film sites throughout the Highlands region that served as the rugged backdrops for Outlander and Games of Thrones. The ruins of Urquhart Castle, which was the only Highlands Castle to hold out to the English, was featured in the Outlander novels and was a film location for the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
The scenery throughout the Highlands is breathtaking with dramatic mountains, waterfalls, bogs, and meadows. The tallest mountain named Ben Nevis is in the Highlands. Heading south from here, we passed through Glencoe, where a few film shots were taken for the movie Braveheart, although most of this movie was filmed in Ireland, in and around Dublin.
Our Globus tour continued onward towards Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. While in Glasgow, several excursions were offered, all included in the tour. Some of the group did a bike tour around the city, viewing its Victorian, Gothic Revival, and post-modern architecture built of deep rust colored red sandstone or creamy blonde sandstone. The bike tour ended at the Tennent’s Brewery, the city’s largest brewery and most popular lager. A cold beer really quenched our thirst after quite an exhilarating bike ride.
Glasgow contains several locations where scenes from Outlander have been filmed, among them, Calderglen, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow University, and the Glasgow Cathedral, used as the fictional charity hospital in Paris, L’Hopital des Anges in the TV series.
One of the tour’s sightseeing inclusions offered a visit to Stirling Castle. Not far from Glasgow, Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most historically and architecturally important castles in Scotland. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Stirling Castle was also one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences, very much a palace as well as a fortress. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling Castle, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542, and others were born or died there. There is so much history associated with this castle.
Today, the castle grounds have been used as a concert venue for entertainers, such as Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, and many others. Some Outlander scenes have been filmed at Stirling Castle, such as a prison scene and a French monastery.
Another famed castle nearby is Doune Castle. Duone Castle served as the fictional Castle Leoch in Outlander and as Winterfell in Games of Thrones, as well as used in the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Conclusion On Scotland With Globus Choice Touring
After this eight-day trip, I feel so immersed in Scottish history, culture, architecture, food and drink, the breathtaking countryside, and peaceful outdoors. There was a lot to take in during a short period of time, but very gratifying. I recommend this kind of tour, a Globus Choice Touring for anyone looking for a well-rounded experience through Scotland.