Adventures In Scotland Tips and Thoughts

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Even though my husband and I are both decently traveled and good planners, 16 days in Scotland will teach anyone a few things. With the help of my brood, I’ve compiled a helpful list of tips and thoughts for anyone planning a trip there.


Self Catering – This is renting an apartment, cottage, guest house, or house.

Usually all the basics like towels, a full kitchen setup with utensils, dishes, pots and pans, a refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and tea kettle are included. Sometimes local information is put together for your use as well.

Questions to ask:

What supplies are included in the rental?  

  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Cooking seasonings and oil
  • Laundry detergent
  • Body wash or soap
  • Paper towels 
  • Napkins 
  • Toilet paper
  • Foil, baggies, plastic wrap
  • Hand soap
  • Trash/Rubbish bags

What amenities are included?

  • Laundry (washer and dryer or washer only)
  • Internet wi-fi)
  • Cable or satellite 
  • Radio
  • DVD player
  • Hair dryer
  • Parking (Street, private parking garage, private space)
  • Elevator/Lift if on upper floor
  • Trash disposal and recycling location
  • Portable crib
  • High chair

Access and Proximity to:

  • Public transit
  • Airport
  • Train station
  • Stores
  • Restaurants 
  • Attractions and places of interest

Inn or Bed and Breakfast

What supplies are included?

  • Soap
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Coffee/Tea service in room

What amenities are included?

  • Refrigerator in room or one available to store items
  • Microwave in room or available for use
  • Laundry (washer and dryer or washer only). If not on premises, is there easy access to  a self service laundromat/launderette?
  • Parking  
  • Portable crib
  • High chair

Access and Proximity to:

  • Public transit
  • Airport
  • Train station
  • Stores
  • Restaurants 
  • Attractions and places of interest

Are pets allowed?

Renting a car and drivng

Scotland is a right hand drive, left side of the road using, roundabout infused country with narrow roadways. We drove more than 2,000 miles and have little doubt why natives travel outside their local area very little.

  • Does your regular automotive insurance cover rental vehicles 
  • Do you know how to drive a stick and shift with your left hand? Most rental vehicles are a manual transmission. Automatic transmission vehicles are at a premium fee.
  • Is your driver’s license legal to drive with in Scotland?
  • Diesel fueled vehicles are popular. Be very aware of which pump you are using.  
  • Petrol is sold by the litre and is quite pricey.
  • A sat nav unit is absolutely necessary and worth the money whether you add maps to your own and bring it or rent one with the vehicle. Navigating roads are terrifically difficult without one because signage is near useless to the non-local.
  • Knowing the basic road rules and signage prior to visiting is immensely helpful. 
  • The Scottish Mile takes much longer to drive than the American mile due to road conditions, lower speed limits, weather, and the dastardly roundabouts (even on the motorways). 100 miles can easily take 3.5 hours to drive.
  • Expect to get lost often.
  • Parking within towns and cities is almost all for pay and difficult to come by.
  • On single lane roads that abide two-way traffic there are cutouts for each direction to pull over to allow for passing.
  • In unsigned areas the speed limit is 30 MPH. Some may be 60 MPH but be wise.
  • Buses local and tour types are everywhere.
  • People jaywalk constantly. Awareness is  critical.
  • Be cautious of rental car companies upselling you extras you do not need.

All of that said, it was totally worth the stress and frustrations my husband and I each experienced behind the wheel being able to drive ourselves everywhere.

Of food and beverages

Dining out

  • American fast food chains are ever present in the mix if you desire.
  • Water must be requested. Servers would bring us a pitcher. 
  • Coffee comes white (with milk) or black. Thankfully the coffee is quite good, even in petrol stations.
  • Take away is the verbiage for take out.
  • All types of cuisine are available, but interpretation of each cuisine of the non-Scottish variety is highly variable. Stick to regional foods.Though I’ve been told Italian and Indian food are very good in Glasgow.
  • Chips are served with almost everything.
  • Foods are minimally salted.
  • Cups and glasses are small. 
  • Get local recommendations to have the best culinary experiences.
  • Do try a full Scottish breakfast or at least all the components.
  • I liked the haggis, the husband did not.
  • I liked the black pudding aka blood sausage, the husband did not.
  • The porridge is good, if you have a penchant for it already.
  • In pubs that serve food, you place the order at the bar and a server brings it to your table.
  • 5-10% is the going rate for tipping.
  • Most places are family friendly.
  • If you like a burger less than well done, you must request it.

Grocery Shopping

  • Stick to non-American products for the best prices.
  • Food labels are different and lack complete ingredient listings.
  • Jams, juices all have added sugar in them.
  • Deli meat is a very different purchasing experience.
  • Eggs are not refrigerated. They come in 6, 12, and 15 count. Caged and free range. Uniform or different sizes.
  • Fruits and vegetables are overall well priced and delicious.
  • There are small, medium, large, and even Walmart type superstores. Something for everyone.
  • Many items do not come in the variety of sizes and options Americans are used to.
  • Costco is in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We were thankful for inexpensive dinners there a few nights. 
  • There are small natural grocers a la Whole Foods around.
  • Cheese comes in number grades the higher the number the more sharp it is.

Communication and Connectivity

  • Buy a local throwaway phone that uses purchased minutes and data upon arrival at the airport or in any of the bigger grocery  stores. 
  • If your phone’s SIM card is unlockable (contact your cellular provider to find out), you can purchase a local SIM card that makes your phone usable.

Either option is more affordable than adding a temporary international  plan to your existing service.

Free internet wifi hotspots are available in many pubs, restaurants, museums, however, they are not secure servers. Do not do banking or purchasing through your phone. Internet services should be secure whenever a password is required. Internet is slower than what is usual in the US.


  • A converter unit can be purchased locally at a store such as Maplin for items that require a two or three pronged plug for safe charging at a reasonable  price.
  • Cheap adapters might cause damage to your tech.
  • USB rechargeable tech can be plugged into your rental car’s USB charger. 
  • A portable charging brick is also an option.
  • Do your own research as to what you ought buy before leaving your own country.


  • Change dollars into Scottish Pounds at a bank to reduce service fees.
  • The exchange rate changes daily.
  • Carrying coins are a must for parking payment.
  • Your debit card is usable pretty much anywhere.
  • Scottish Pounds may be refused if you go to England though effectively it is the same currency.

Quirks and Unique Flavors

  • Grilled haggis and cheese sandwiches are popular.
  • Trash cans or bins tend to be small.
  • Traffic cones when utilized are abundant.
  • Locals are terribly apologetic over anything.
  • Politeness seems to rule common behavior.
  • There are signs warning of elderly people crossing.
  • Only 7 cities exist in Scotland. The rest are towns.
  • Sadly, very few kilt wearers exist.
  • Instead of government holidays, they have bank holidays.
  • People say “cheers” often.
  • Crappy American beer sells for a premium.
  • Black currant flavored drinks and foods are everywhere.
  • Bring layers to wear. The weather is erratic.
  • Depending on your ear for accents, you may or may not understand what is being said to you.
  • Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) appears on the street signage alongside English.

Bottom line, go and have an adventure. It is a lovely country, with great people, and terrifically moody weather,  Our next trip is already in the works.  We really enjoyed visiting the Historic Scotland and National Trust for Scotland locations. Passes can be bought at Tourism outlets or online to give a considerable savings per place to visit.  Visit Scotland  is a wonderful resource as well.

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Adventures In Scotland 9

To make up for the prior day’s shortened excursion, this day will be jam packed with sight seeing. This is also our last day staying near Stirling so we need to fit in whatever we can. Our trip is more than half completed now. The pressure is on not to miss one morsel, though I know some destinations will have to be sacrificed as time will catch up to us all too soon.


Somehow we have missed something exquisite near where we are staying. Dunblane Cathedral (kirk) is a true gem that dates back to the 13th century. It survived the reformation only because the Marquis of Argyll requested it be saved. Only the Catholic statues and imagery were taken out. The kirk is still in use today with services each Sunday morning.

Being in this space nearly made me weep. a few times my lashes wet with overwhelm. Incredibly deep feelings stirred. As a protestant, I am so thankful this masterpiece was not put to ruin simply for a difference of ideology and theology.
Every visitor was in quiet awe and reverence. This kirk is a must see for the religious and non-religious alike. It is that fantastic.

 Back into the car to Campbell Castle we venture. Nestled very remotely into the upper hillside, it is quite a trek up the hill for us. I seriously complained as are my overworked calves.  I can see children running and playing in the hills. They are so inviting. The castle was built in the late 15th century through the 16th century. Interestingly the most preserved portion of the structure is the oldest part. The Clan Campbell rose to importance out of relative obscurity before getting caught up in the reformation madness because the Marquis of Argyll allowed it’s use by Cromwell’s army.

    The vast gardens surely were a spectacle to behold and enjoy. My own children ran with joy all over the grounds pointing out this and that flower.


 The life of the castle was about 150 years. A time seemingly too short for the efforts that were made.

As we head back down the hill, a middle aged couple and her well aged mother, who used a cane no less, were about 70% up the hill. Impressed barely describes my reaction. I shall not complain about how difficult the terrain is again.  A determined, stubborn “old lady” who won my heart and gives me hope utterly fortified me. 

Like clowns we jam back into the vehicle finding our way to Huntingtower Castle. I am so grateful my kids are excellent travelers and going along for the ride very well. Very few spats and grumbly moments between us this trip, but I doubt I’d want to go on Amazing Race with the husband. 

 This castle was built as two distinct buldings prior to a common room attaching them together.  I especially liked the upper rooms and catwalks around the tower tops. Lovely land surrounded this small family estate.

A tale from Huntingtower is the daughter Dorothea leapt from one building to the next because she heard the footsteps of her suspicious mother who thought she was having improper relations with the man staying in that tower. She saved herself from getting caught by leaping tower to tower more than 30 feet up and swiftly getting back into bed before her mother was able to get to her room. Her mother apologized for doubting her. The next night Dorothea and her beloved ran off and eloped. I am sure her mother was none to pleased with her after  all.  

Our last stop of the day is Elcho Castle. Built as a castle in the 1560’s likely by Sir John Wemyss. It became a family retreat due to calmer political times. This by far is our favorite in the matter of being a truly livable floor plan. Of note, the lady of the house must have had a hand in the design as each room had it’s own en-suite style latrine shoots. 


 The other aspect to adore is the interconnecting stairs to all the rooms. Easy access for household workers and the family. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited in political support.

The outside garden must have been enviable with an orchard plentiful with fruit trees and herbs for cooking and medicinal use.  

    Even my boys liked this layout best and thought too this to be the best candidate for more modern living even at around 550 years old.

Unfortunately it’s time to go to the cottage and pack for our trip northward in the morning. Last minute laundry is accomplished before we settle in for the night.

Tomorrow is travel day to Inverness. 

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Adventures In Scotland 8

A cool morning when we woke. The weather we expect is back to stay with off and on rain showers. Everyone gets snacks packed, proper clothes together, and away we go.

The husband and I are taking turns driving and being the navigator so only one of us is completely fried at the end of each day. Driving here is enjoyable but it takes hyper concentration to be safe on these ever variant roads.

We decide to hit a few more castles. I know, how boring is that?! Coming from a country where there are no real castles to a country with more than the usual share, I want to see as many as I can,. The histories are so interesting. Sadly, often bloody and tragic. To be in power during the days of castle living meant to be in near constant defense of your power, land, and abode.

Linlithgow Palace our first stop of the day.  Built and developed over two centuries by successive Stewart kings, this palace was an exceptional locale for royal travel nestled between Stirling and Edinburgh. It is the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, though she spent only seven months of her life here.

Sadly after so much time and effort being put into this build, it went into overall decline in the 1600’s. I am happy to report there is quite a bit still intact though most has fallen into ruin. The courtyard fountain is the oldest working fountain in the UK.



This is the view from one of the bedchambers. Even today is a treat to peer out of.

This is one of the hearth ovens. The kitchen was quite a large space. My husband is standing in it to giver proper scale. He is about 6 ft tall and the hearth eats him. Imagine the amount of food that could be produced at any given time.

We spent more than an hour wandering around this vast space. As with the others, I want to see it how it was.


I love how the husband takes pictures of me taking pictures of other things.

Now for just a bit of random brain squirrel aside:

I would swear in a court of law that we are climbing damn near ever step there is to climb within the country of Scotland. I hope my legs and booty look improved by the time we get back to the USA because they deserve some reward for all this hardcore exercise I am putting them through. I think the maidservants were in seriously good shape for going up and down the stairs and corridors countless times per day. Too bad back then being thin with thighs and buns of steel likely meant you were of lower class. Sigh. No one can ever win the body image game. HA.

One thing to note, castles are FREEZING with or without a roof. There is little wonder why woman had to wear so many layers of clothing. Then I think, how did anyone use the “water closet” without help? I have been drinking hot beverages throughout the day not for the caffeine but to warm my hands and insides. I’ve spent most days shivering with a runny nose no matter how many layers I have on. Stone buildings may be good fortifications but they are COLDER than… well you know.

I am dreaming of having a very large plaid to wrap myself in wherever we go. I shall eventually order one out of the same tartan my husband’s new kilt is made of, but today the budget will not allow for it unfortunately. 

Now back to my regularly scheduled posting.

Blackness Castle is the very next stop for us.  It was originally a residence for the Crichton family in the 1440’s then was taken back by the king undergoing a major reno in the 1600’s. I just love seeing renovation dates in the 1500-1600’s.  The home and garden channel could have had roving reporters taking notes and drawings to share with others about modern renovation. This was all  before it would become a barracks in the 1700’s and a prison.



It is extremely bitter cold being just off the water. Being a prisoner here could only have been hell on earth.   Heating the living quarters when the Crichton’s lived here and into the times of the barracks must have been an enormous feat.


The ruin is difficult to get around in and as with many of these properties we are visiting, great care and proper shoes are required in not getting hurt during an excursion.


The boys are enjoying running amok as they are want to since there are generally very few other visitors. This is necessary since we are spending inordinate amounts of time in the small vehicle due to the hilariously long Scottish Miles.

Alas no more to see this day as we got stuck in terrible construction traffic for 40 minutes just a half mile from a destination. This driver got fed up and threw in the towel for a trip to Costco Edinburgh. Salad and hot dogs for dinner with a pizza take away for later. Yes a sanity play was sorely needed for all at that point. The boys completely love Costco dinner. Teenagers sometimes are very easy to please.

No matter it was a good day.


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Adventures In Scotland 7

Today is kid’s choice on where we go.  The big map is out on the table. The eldest is most interested in finding a non-castle locale. It is a very cold day with rain and snow expected.  With all the road miles we are putting in, we are spending time at the grocery store so the boys have snacks and lunches to pack into their backpacks. There is no way we could afford to buy every meal out. I highly recommend doing this weather you are traveling as a family or a couple.  Also we purchased the Explorer’s Pass through Historic Scotland so we can affordably visit the paid sites we want to see. This is how we are going to so many castles and such.

So the eldest decides on an old lead mining village of Wanlockhead in the Lowther hills of Dumfries and Galloway for us to visit today.   

This little village of less than 160 people has some interesting claims to fame. It’s the highest village in Scotland at 1,531 feet. Of course, we find this cute as welive at 6,200 feet in Colorado. In it’s heyday of mining, every man, woman, and child were literate because they have the second oldest subscription library in the country (the library contents are priceless today). The first lads (non-married males) curling club in Scotland began in this remote place. The Duke of Buccleuch to this day owns most of the land in the area. The Duke of the past oversaw the mining town. He was said to be very generous with the workers.


A rich and interesting history in an unexpected place.

Our first stop is the library. The guide is very informative and excited to share all the library history she can. Only the head of the household could be a library member, hence men were the subscribing members and their wives had to read the books they brought home for the month. One woman believed to be a teacher, was unmarried and on the library board was the only female member. That was until she married and the subscription passed on to her husband, though she remained on the board.

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Then into one of the mines with tour guide Tony. Hard hats and all! Wet, dark, small. When the mine was in use boys as young as 8 carried the mined product out to be washed by boys aged 12. Women were not allowed to work in the mines because the men did not want to pay someone to take care of their kids while their mothers worked. Though well paying, this work was very dangerous.

We view replicas of the living quarters for workers from the 1700’s-1900’s. The workers had to build their own structures then pay rent on them. Very bleak in the early years. Life expectancy was 35 for a miner. By the 1800’s because of improved conditions rose to 55 years of age.

Sheep are also allowed to roam freely to be tick bait so when grouse season comes the grouse will likely be tick free. There is a sheep bathing station to clear the ticks from time to time.

For several hours we tour the town ending with coffee, hot cocoa, and homemade shortbread. This picturesque hidden gem very much a treat for all of us. The eldest did a fine job choosing.

We decide to head to another castle and drive another 40 minutes only to find Drumlanrig is only open for tours daily July 1st to August 31st. It has the most gorgeous grounds and is totally worth the drive even to just see the outside.


The weather changes on us from rain, to heavy rain, to snow. Scotland is like Colorado four seasons in one day.

 The landscapes we see day to day keep my heart swooning. This place feels like home away from home.  I am not fond of per litre of petrol prices. The Scottish Mile is not going to get me down. I am ever thankful highways and freeways in the USA do not have roundabouts on them.

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Adventures In Scotland 6

A gray, cool morning greeted us. This is the Scotland I was expecting. Even under the cover of cloud vibrant and beautiful lands to behold. Turbulent Scottish weather is not much different from our weather at home. We are very good at layering to handle any type of changes the sky can throw at us.

Well caffeinated and fed, I decide it is my turn to finally drive. Being of the left-handed persuasion, shifting is not too big a deal. Driving on the opposite side of the road not much of a problem either as long as one remembers to “wide right” and “near left”.  The plague of excessive roundabouts in some areas is definitely a menace to be contended with. Roundabouts are great for going around again when the exit is missed, but too many slows travel down.

At first it was difficult for the husband to have me drive. It is a very challenging experience being a passenger on the left side of the car. I was happy to have him be the navigator for a change. That, my friends, is a nasty job when the roads are totally unfamiliar. The only terse moments we’ve had are surrounding navigator/driver communications. I dearly miss my sat nav. Google maps is all we have to go with since it takes very little data on our phones to use.

Before meeting up with another Scottish friend, we head to Dunbarton to see, yes another castle. Scotland is absolutely littered with the things.  Dunbarton Castle is placed where the rivers Leven and Clyde meet. It is also unusual in that the buildings are separated so there is a distance to walk in between each nestled into and onto the cliff side.  The views are glorious. The stairs, oh my goodness, I swear we are climbing near on every stair in Scotland. Where the castle sits was actually a fortress in the dark ages dating back 1500 years.  David the II and Mary 1 were both sheltered here until safe transport to France was possible.

 Castle Newark the next stop. Mind you none of the places are that close together. Places of fortress and power need to be spaced out. The Scottish Miles are adding up. The Castle Keep who marked our tickets asked me, “Is that an Australian accent?” By far my most favorite question of all. This castle feels the most livable to me so far.   It was built around 1480 but had a major renovation in the 1590’s.  Sir Maxwell is thought to be a raging, wife-beating man of treachery. Ah perhaps not so livable after all. The castle became state property in 1909. I am fascinated at how much of the structure is still in wonderful condition. There are even closets with chamber pot stools in them. So much better than the loo shoots down the side of the building from a room above.

 it is time to meet our friend, N. To Ayr. Another hour in the car, navigated very well by my husband and well tolerated by the boys, we meet at the Robert Burns Museum before going to South Ayrshire to the ruins of Dunure Castle. Friend 4 for 4 who is delightful as well as her lovely daughter P. 

  They show us around the ruins of the castle. Dunure was a place of power and importance for the Kennedy family for several centuries from the 1200’s.  Even Mary Queen of Scots stayed there for three nights. Touching the walls of a thousand years past is quite evocative. I long to see what it was like when it was an active home and political seat. With the Reformation sweeping changes occurred and the glory of the castle faded.

Breathtaking views across the water Arran can be seen.  I can imagine sitting out wrapped in wool, sipping a hot beverage meditating into the vast view.

We take in an early dinner at the local pub/restaurant. My boys are in rare form chatting each other up. Poor Miss P. she is stuck talking to the adults over our meal.  I have learned quickly to ask for water when at a restaurant. It is not brought out without request. When it is brought out, the glasses are maybe 4 ounces. Easy conversation and decent food, aside from the mushy peas.

On the way back to the car, I must put a foot in the water. I am like a kid near a puddle, I HAVE to get in it even in the littlest way. I run down to the water and Miss P follows. We each take off a shoe and get a foot wet. She actually gets the shoes foot wet as well. Kids are awesome and free. I picked up sea glass too.  

 I have officially touched the salty coastal waters. I miss the water so dearly that my heart is completely singing with the moisture in the air, the water all around me here. I am immensely at peace.

Many hugs and cheek kisses later, in the car (now with the husband insisting on driving), we head off led by N to the road leading back toward the cottage.

This trip means more to me than I can express. I am thankful and grateful for the other five in my family for agreeing to this plan more than a year ago. Frequently happy emotional tears well. I could stay here.

My friend N asked if my expectations been met? Yes. It feels comfortable like home. I do not feel like a foreigner. I dare say I am not a Sassenach. I feel like I belong here. It is something special to have that feeling of belonging here since childhood, be wholly vindicated.

My day of driving a success to the count of one car stall, two handfuls of shifting into the wrong gear, and one wrong turn in a roundabout. I feel quite accomplished really.

I sit in reflection thinking of what sleeping and living rough really means. I am also thankful for cars, warmth, and flush toilets.

I could not ask for anything more. At least not in this moment. Tomorrow is kids’ choice on where we go. See you on the other side.


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