By Katie McEvinney
On a brisk summer’s day, standing on the shore of Loch Ness and scouring the murky waters for Nessie (the Loch Ness monster) is somewhat a tradition in Scotland. Some people suggest you look out for a scaly, green head, whereas others believe her tail is often easiest to spot.
What follows is often some whisky and good food in a local pub. By good food in the Highlands, I mean seafood delivered seamlessly from a nearby fishing boat to your plate, so fresh you can still taste the salty waves and so lovingly cooked you could cry. By whisky, I mean the world’s best, from one of the hundreds of distilleries throughout the country and served neat beside a roaring glow in the fireplace. Here, the wind-battered faces will be some of the friendliest you will meet, and the conversations and humour the most stimulating. You will begin to understand what Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, meant when he said: “Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, the hills of the Highlands for ever I love.” You can even visit his birthplace down in Alloway, or walk the paths he wrote about in Aberfeldy, where woodland trails and little streams mind their own business.
In Edinburgh, amongst the boutiques in Stockbridge, or the bustling Christmas markets, and most certainly during the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, the place erupts, shakes even, with good spirit. Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park, is the perfect place to overlook Edinburgh, and rumours have it that it was the location of Camelot, the home of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. It’s in Glasgow however that you will laugh, and be swept into the electric buzz of city life. The best shops, the best bars, and the best people. Notably, the best music scene. In King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, a tiny little groove hidden amongst the glorious sandstone bricks on Bath Street, geniuses have played, and will continue to. In Subclub, SWG3, GSA and Berkeley Suites, the world’s best DJs perform. Here, you can taste some of the best curries in the United Kingdom. Try The Wee Curry Shop, a quaint, and tiny restaurant as the name suggests, on trendy Ashton Lane in the West End for the most delicious haggis pakora, or monkfish and prawn curry. Furthermore, a staple in the city for years, Mother India in Finnieston is the spice leader in Scotland with classic dishes and exciting, modern variations and twists with simple ingredients. Restaurants and bars in Finnieston are generally all fantastic: Ox and Finch, Crabshakk, and The Gannet, to name a few. This area is constantly developing further, from a neglected industrial area, into one of the most exciting foodie-scenes in Scotland.
From Dumfries to Thurso, Glencoe to the Fairy Pools, the Kelpies, the Cairngorms and beyond, Scotland is a must see destination for any traveller.
Perhaps this is why Scotland recently placed second in the Rough Guides list of best countries in the world to visit in 2017. Just behind India, Scotland was heralded as a place of beauty and heritage, with Travel Editor Greg Dickinson telling BBC Good Morning Scotland that the North Coast 500 as well as the island of Skye’s restaurant scene played a huge role in the high ranking. The North Coast Route, or the NC500, is a 500-mile stretch around the coast of the Northwest mainland, and includes places such as Caithness and Wester Ross. Here, you can drive through some of the most scenic places in the country where rocky mountains and rolling shores meet. A little known fact is that Scotland has three times the amount of coastline as England, and double what Spain and France has to offer the regular traveller. Our beaches are special – the West Sands in St. Andrews, for example, is one the most spectacular shores in Scotland and was actually used in the opening scenes of the 1981 film ‘Chariots of Fire.’ This is only one particular example of the natural beauty that Scotland has to offer, where lolling, golden dunes melt into the world famous golfing destination, the Royal And Ancient – better known to locals as the Auld Course.
If mountains are more your thing than beaches, then Scotland has over 282 munros –hills over 3,000 ft. Tackle Ben Lomond with views over Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, or Ben Nevis, close to the town of Fort William, or even Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms. There are over 800 islands to explore, including Mull, Islay and the Isle of Arran, where a number of marine animals and birds live, like dolphins or white-tailed eagles. Throughout the country in fact, the wildlife you can spot is Scotland is unbelievable. There are roe-deer, red squirrels, otters and grey seals which roam free.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There are thousands more destinations, and reasons, as to why someone should travel here. Scotland is best, a place for relaxation and reflection, or partying and excess. In Scotland, there is something for everyone. We are a diverse, beautiful, progressive, forward-thinking nation and we welcome you, here.