The travel bug hit me at a very early age. I was raised on t.v. shows and movies set in far off places. It tempted my young mind to dream of visiting the world and exploring the amazing cultures I found. Unfortunately, the reality of travel, and the expenses associated with it, became a hurdle that I was unable to overcome until after I turned 21. The age of responsibility caused me to re-evaluate my life goals and travel was now firmly at the top. The question was, however, where should I go first?
I was very fortunate to have friends in both England and Scotland who were willing to allow me to stay with them. Accommodation is a major expense for any holiday and I was pleased to be spared from it. The UK was a very safe choice for a first overseas holiday, especially for a woman travelling alone. I was terrified about the flight, changing planes in Dubai, navigating the airports. The fear was entirely unfounded, however, as I managed all of these things without a problem. The journey from Brisbane to Glasgow took just over 24 hours and I got very little sleep in that time, causing me to go through the motions of airport security like a crazed zombie. The best remedy for that was sleep, and what a lovely night of sleep I received.
Ayr is a lovely area of Scotland that sits roughly an hour south-west of Glasgow. This was my base in Scotland as one of my friends lived here, in the small village of Mossblown (15 minutes from Ayr town centre). Ayr itself is a fairly small town, with two or three streets filled with various shops, quaint cafes and historic pubs. Ayr has a surprising amount of clothing stores, many of which cater only to women and are reasonably priced. I also found a surprisingly large Thorntons store, where they offer not only gift wrapping but personalised gifts for a small fee.
The Ayrshire region is made famous through the life and works of poet Robert Burns, or Rabbie as the locals call him. In Ayr itself, directly across the road from the train station, is a statue of the famed poet. Off High St, as well, you can find the Auld Kirk where Burns was baptised as a baby. The kirk is set beside Ayr river and is perfect for a scenic stroll when the weather permits.
Alloway, howver, is the place to visit if you are a fan of Robert Burns. Alloway is 3 miles south of Ayr and holds the majority of Burns-related sights in Ayrshire. You can visit the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which is a modern installation housing memorabilia such as manuscripts and is sure to keep the entire family entertained with its interactive displays. You can also visit the Burns Cottage where a guide will explain Robert Burns’ childhood. The cottage houses the original furnishings and contains electronic visuals that add to the 18th century atmosphere. Alloway also houses numerous locations made famous in Rabbie’s poems like the Allowy Auld Kirk from Tom O-Shanter, and Brig O’ Doon.
My escapade around Ayr and Alloway was a very wet adventure. Though I visited Scotland in August (their summer), the rain was quite torrential on many days. On the day I visited Largs, however, the weather was bright and sunny. It was not at all hot, as Scotland rarely reaches temperatures over mid 20s. Largs is a seaside town that earns it fame through a battle fought in 1263. Not many tourists realise that much of the United Kingdom was ruled by the vikings for many years. Largs was a viking settlement, however many of the inhabitants had married the locals and their children became Scots through and through. The people were still required to pay a sort of gift to the king of the vikings to thank them for protection however the Scots were tired of paying the viking king, a man they were unlikely to ever meet and had no bearing on their daily life. The people of Largs rebelled, refusing to pay, and have earned a place in the history books because of it. The battle was long and bloody but the results have been cemented into the town’s history. Consequently, the main attraction at Largs is named Vikingar, a viking-themed exhibition. The guided tour includes an overview of the viking way of life, a short movie about the Battle of Largs, and an interactive exhibition that will educate all ages.
Largs itself is a beautiful town. The scenery includes glorious coastlines and rolling green hills. The pier holds a variety of rides such as dodgems, as well as carnival food in food vans and stalls. The main street is long and winding but holds an array of shops that complement the town’s quirky personality. There are numerous restaurants, confectioners and souvenir stores, each with their own sense of charisma to add to the town’s charm. Largs also has a range of historic cathedrals and buildings to please the historically-minded. My only disappointment from my visit is not having more time to explore.
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world (in my opinion, anyway). It’s filled with rich history and wonderful cuisine. The people are friendly and the architecture gob-smacking. I was only in Edinburgh for half a day and was overwhelmed at the sheer size of the city. My first stop was The Rosehip Restaurant and Bar for a bite of lunch. The menu was colourful but oh so delicious. I ordered a steak sandwich and the beef was so tender it melted in my mouth. One thing you must try in Scotland is their national soft drink (soda), Irn Bru. The flavour is almost like creaming soda and helps make you feel like a local.
You can’t visit Edinburgh and not explore Edinburgh Castle. The majestic fortress sits high on a craggy hill, overlooking the city it has protected for centuries. The castle is absolutely stunning. It consists of 10 or so individual buildings surrounded by the castle wall. Each building holds a different aspect of the castle’s history, from the guards to the dungeons. The castle courtyard most famously hosts the Edinburgh Military Tattoo each year in August, a collection of military musicians performing spectacularly.
Beyond the castle is the Royal Mile. The Mile is a winding and steep street that leads from the castle to the centre of the city. The Mile is filled with shops and restaurants that are a tourist’s dream come true. The shops vary from souvenir shops to woolen stores and I even spotted a couple of kilt tailors! The restaurants and cafes are also diverse and cater for an unlimited amount of cuisines from tradition and modern Scottish dishes such as deep-fried haggis (which is absolutely delicious, by the way) to Italian cuisine.
Glasgow is the cultural hub of Scotland. It is often confused as the capital because it does have such a commanding presence in the nation. I also visited Glasgow for just half a day but I got to see a good deal of the city. The rain was drizzling down for the entire visit but it’s best to take the rain as a given. Glasgow is an amazing mix of modern and traditional. The city is filled with galleries, museums and fine food. The best thing about Glasgow is that many attractions are actually free to enter, making it the perfect destination for travellers on a budget. Glasgow is also a very safe city. Using common sense is a must but tourists have little to fear when visiting Scotland’s largest city.
Being a lover of history, I couldn’t wait to visit this castle. Culzean (pronounced Kull-een) Castle is famed for its manicured grounds and austere estate and I can attest to its beauty. The grounds were extensive and I did get lost and separated from my friends but the beauty I found around every corner was worth the worry. Everything was bright and blooming and surprisingly empty. Perhaps the drizzling rain was a deterrent but if you never go out because it’s raining in Scotland, you would never witness the natural beauty of the raindrops on roses. The castle had a small souvenir store near the entrance that held little treats such as Irn Bru sweets. Delicious!
If someone were to ask me my opinion on Scotland, my answer would not be one-worded, nor would it be unenthusiastic. During my short stay, I saw places that I never knew even existed and experienced things (haggis) that I would never have chosen myself. If you are looking for a land filled with natural beauty, culture and history, then Scotland is the place for you! I can’t wait for my next visit.