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Trip Report SKETCHES, SCOTCHES AND SKYE: A SHORT AND SWEET SCOTLAND REPORT

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This is not timely, since our three week trip happened in August and September this year. But I want to clear the decks for Hogamany, and offer my thanks to Fodorites whose reports helped us plan this trip, notably Nikki and RM67.

Apart from a business trip to Edinburgh many years ago, I have not travelled to Scotland. This in spite of the fact that DH has been playing the bagpipes since he was eight, and his middle name is Burns. We decided to spend a week doing Glasgow and Edinburgh that would coincide with the end of the Festivals at the end of August; a week on one of the famous trails; and a week on a driving tour of the Highlands.

URBAN ADVENTURES (Glasgow and Edinburgh)
The less said about our Westjet flight into Glasgow, the better. I recuperated with the buffet at the hotel on our arrival, which included Glenfiddich to splash on breakfast oats for my first (but not last) Athol Brose. We spent a couple of days walking and gawking. The Kelvingrove Museum is an entertaining Victorian pile. The contemporary art museum is dull and disappointing, given the fine architecture and the presence of the art school in Glasgow. We regretted not having made the time to get to the new Transportation Museum. We had great meals at Gamba and the Ubiquitous Chip, and fun at Oran Mor.

Now by train to the sketches—the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. As first-timers, we shared some of the trepidation that others have expressed, especially when we got the several hundred page program in advance. We did our best, and booked a handful of performances in advance (mostly on a dart-throwing basis), together with tickets for a couple of the International Festival events and, of course, the Tattoo. The rest we did on site, through on-line reviews, leaflets, posters, and passing by at the right time. Our choices were further complicated by a wonderful Book Festival that we stumbled upon. Ticket purchase and pick-up are superbly organized through the Festival app. We ended up going to three or four events a day—theatre, comedy, dance, music -- it was exhausting and exhilarating. We didn’t love everything, but we loved the experience.

If I were going to do it again—and I would, in a heartbeat—I would organize my days around venues rather than performances, and I would book in advance only for performances that are likely to be sell-outs, like the Traverse Theatre. I wouldn’t do the Tattoo again, a sentimental international sound-and-light show. I know it is hugely popular, so they wont miss my business. And I would leave a little time for some of the “tourist sights”. We just popped into the National Museum on our way back from the Pleasance Dome one afternoon because I wanted to see the Lewis Chessmen, but it certainly deserves more. Because we were organizing around shows, we didn’t try to book dining too, and we had a couple of execrable meals – believe the bad reviews about places in Grassmarket. They were about the only ones of our trip though. Otherwise, we ate and drank well at both high and low ends throughout the trip. We were terrifically impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of nearly everyone we dealt with, given the craziness of the Festival season.

SCOTCHES (AND SALMON): THE SPEYSIDE WAY
We did some research on Scotland’s “Big Walks” and settled on the Speyside. It runs for 80 miles from Buckie on the Moray Firth to Aviemore in the foothills of the Cairngorms. It is probably the easiest of the long-distance trails, running as it does along the Spey River and a railway trackbed. Still, it is 6 days of 10 – 13 miles a day. We used a touring company to book accommodation and arrange our luggage transfer along the way. You could certainly do this yourself or with a local supplier, but we were more comfortable leaving the logistics to Wilderness Scotland. The accommodation was mixed; we especially enjoyed the Trochelhill Country House Bed and Breakfast in Fochabers; the Cragellichie Hotel, famous for its 1000 bottle Scotch bar—we only had a couple; and the Delnashaugh Inn in Ballindalloch.

We welcomed the peace of the Way after the hectic Edinburgh days. We rarely saw anyone else on the trail, except around the towns and villages. Maybe because it was pouring rain for the first couple of days, and slogging through mud is not how the Scots prefer to spend their time if they have a choice? We were also surprised that most of the inns along the Way aren’t really designed for hikers. Few have mud rooms or drying areas, so we ended up trekking through the common areas in our (very) dirty boots, and abusing the heated towel racks in our room. I learned a lot about Scotch, as the warm fragrance of fermenting mash rose up to meet us often from the small distilleries. And I learned a lot about salmon. One of the beats we walked along had a daily tariff of 450 pounds. We kept walking. This was an excellent transition week, but I am not drawn to repeat it. There is lots of good walking in the world, with more reliable weather and dramatic landscapes.

OVER THE SEA TO SKYE
We picked up a car on our return to Inverness, and set out for a tour of the Highlands. The Ceilidh Palace in Ullapool is a place we could hang out in for days; unfortunately, we had just planned an overnight. Other highlights of this segment: the Inverewe Gardens, Uig Pottery, and a delightful afternoon in Plockton. I am a huge fan of Robbie (before he was Robert) Carlyle, and the Hamish MacBeth series, so I was thrilled to be in the IRL Lochdubh. We found the memorial to Flora MacDonald after visiting Dunvegan, and I was surprised to see Kilmuir is also the final resting place of one (Leo) Alexander McQueen. His marker is graced with peacock feathers.

There are some lovely looking walks on Skye; I would go back for those, or to some of the more remote islands.

We found the Footprint guide to Scotland: Highlands and Islands to be a good resource. And thanks again to all of the Fodorites who contributed their thoughts and experiences that enriched ours. Now I know that I prefer the scotch from Speyside scotch to that from the Islands, but I need to continue the exploration.

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