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Scotland, My Love

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

To say that I'm highly interested in British culture would be a massive understatement. I have been raised by Anglophile parents who were equally obsessed with British culture and history.

For the record, according to my DNA results, I am 70% English, 20% Irish and 10% German.

So, it only made sense that our one-and-only big international trip as a family was to England when I was 5 years old (in April of 1989). Even at that age, I was already familiar with famed British comedies like Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served and Monty Python - I am sure many jokes and contexts were way over my head at that age, but I have always had a deep rooted love for this style of humor. Oh and the murder mysteries and drama series? Still to this day in my opinion, American TV will never beat the quality that the UK produces.

I would rush to the TV when I heard the introduction to PBS' broadcasting of Mystery!. I was completely invested in solving the murders in Poirot and Inspector Morse. This all infused my love of epic period pieces and historical dramas both on the big screen and the little - and influenced my passion of costuming and the entertainment industry.

Now, I know this has not much to do with Scotland itself, but it does give you an idea of how far back my connection to the UK goes. So essentially, out of the womb I have had a magnetic pull to this region.

Scotland has always been this mysterious place to me - though I became more aware of it through films like Braveheart and Rob Roy, and of course through an English POV in regards to storytelling of Queen Elizabeth 1 and her heretic and throne-hungry cousin Mary Queen of Scots (more on that some other time).

As a family, we would attend the Costa Mesa Scottish Festival & Highland Games each year (California). And, when I was about 11 years old, my father joined the Black Watch Regiment (acting group) where they practiced Scottish military drills in full dress, as well as performed drumming and bagpiping routines. Later on, my father started making and selling bagpipes. My favorite band growing up wasn't a mainstream American band... it was Brother - a group of Australian brothers with Scottish descent who fused Aussie Aboriginal sounds (didgeridoos) with Scottish bagpipes and with modern rock. We followed them along the highland game and festival route for over a decade from Southern California all the way up to Canada. I had a HUGE crush on Hamish. What a dream of a human!

In 2009, a close friend and I decided to travel to England for a week staying in a variety of B&B's across rural England. Flash forward to 2015 and being eligible to take a 6-week sabbatical from work, I was itching to get back to that region. I had been wanting to get up to Scotland but I wasn't originally planning on making it the main focus of my 2-week long itinerary. The plan was to spend 10 days in England and then the last few days in Scotland before heading home. As I kept on working through my plans, I took a step back and realized that I was essentially planning a solo trip going to the exact same places I went in 1989 and 2009.

So I scratched the entire trip and decided to start over with only one place in mind to discover - Scotland. This was going to be my first time traveling internationally all on my own. I was excited to start this new chapter in my life of trying new things and being more curious. I suggest that every adult try to travel by themselves at least one time in their life!

Prior to diving deep into the research and planning, my thoughts led me to wonder if...

1) it would be safe as I've never been there before and I was going alone,

2) I would regret not spending any time in England after making it all the way out there

3) and if I would run out of things to see or do because Scotland couldn't have possibly enough to keep a tourist busy like England can in London alone.

Ha! How WRONG I was!!

With a small introduction to Edinburgh by my go-to for escapism and vicarious travel on PBS/OPB, by Rick Steves, this got my tummy tingling with what I was about to experience on my adventure. I made a quick list of the trip "must haves" that I wanted to be sure to experience in some capacity, which included:

1) stepping into history every day

2) a place for contemplation and relaxation

3) flexibility in dining experiences (restaurants to cooking at home)

4) limited hotel stays with more quaint B&B/self-serve cottage stays

5) freedom to either follow a strict itinerary or completely follow my own schedule

6) be a typical tourist but also get off the beaten path

7) strike up as many conversations with locals that I can - get a true vibe of being from there/living there

Based on some great blogs and YouTube videos, I knew that a great place to start my trip was going to be in the key city of Edinburgh. From there, the ideas kept flowing and I eventually completed a 2-week itinerary, budget friendly, and booked it! See my planning series below for more about the plans:

Leg 3: Rosslyn

Leg 4: Stirling

I won't go into much detail here about the individual legs of my trip recapping everything I experienced, instead here are links to the 14 days of recaps from this 2015 trip:

Day 10: Stirling

To sum it up, I pretty much stayed close to my original plan, of course with a few changes.

So how did I do against my check list of must-haves?

1) stepping into history every day

HIGHLIGHT: Being at the heart of the oldest part of Edinburgh waking up every day looking to the castle - Visit Edinburgh Castle

2) a place for contemplation and relaxation

HIGHLIGHT: Inchmahome Priory - breathtaking, calming, eerie, magical, peaceful

3) flexibility in dining experiences (restaurants to cooking at home)

HIGHLIGHT: Favorite cottage on this trip - Arniston Estate Cottage

I stayed in the Chestnut Cottage. LOVED the kitchen! Made some great meals there.

4) limited hotel stays with more quaint B&B/self-serve cottage stays

HOTEL HIGHLIGHT: Grassmarket Hotel, Edinburgh - quirky, fun, great breakfast meal rate combined with room, awesome staff, great social media, quick response, in the heart of everything, great value for your dollar!

COTTAGE HIGHLIGHT: Peebles Apartment Cottage - clean, quaint and perfectly situated. The town of Peebles is iconic for it's Medieval style and idyllic for its picturesque country scape.

5) freedom to either follow a strict itinerary or completely follow my own schedule

CHECK! I did all the things that I pretty much set out to do, but then left myself open to other experiences in the moment or as locals suggested them. Some of the unplanned were the highlights of my trip!

6) be a typical tourist but also get off the beaten path

HIGHLIGHT: Highland Life Museum - just stumbled on it while driving. Phenomenal and will go back when I can give it more time.

7) strike up as many conversations with locals that I can - get a true vibe of being from there/living there.

CHECK! From lengthy convos with the driver on the Hop On Hop Off Bus chatting about living in Edinburgh, industries to work in, politics, quality of life, etc... to the warming comfort of some mom-like energy from my B&B host, Fiona, in Stirling... or the educational but very helpful conversation with a teenage boy at the Highland Life Museum - he was so excited to talk about his country and its history that you just felt it pour out through his heart... or a long chat with the bartender at the restaurant next to Grassmarket Hotel in Edinburgh just talking about travel journalism, college, things he loves about Edinburgh, etc.

No matter where I went - in the middle of a tourism hub to a quirky little town - I was greeted by people that were kind, helpful and generous of their time. I never felt like I didn't belong - either because I'm American, or a woman, or a fat woman... it didn't matter, I never felt any judgement or disrespect. Instead I was met with some of the warmest, interesting, passionate and prideful people.

Every Scottish person living there I interacted with genuinely showed me the pride they have for their country, their people, and their history.

The hundreds of years of battling for independence from England still lives in the energy within Scotland's own people today. Over several moments during my trip, I found myself standing in complete silence taking in the landscape, architecture or history at my feet. In words that I can only use to describe what I felt in those moments, it was pure silence yet at the same time this surge from below my feet as if the land was screaming out its story.

I discovered in Scotland a piece of me that I didn’t know was missing.

The best way I can describe this feeling is that when I think about Scotland (which is pretty much every single day since I stepped onto that soil on Oct 10, 2015), is that I get this warmth in my chest, flutters in my tummy, and this vibration through my bones.

It's an emotional feeling - as if I could break down in tears on the spot thinking of it. I guess that is what it feels like to know a piece of your soul is existing 4,618 miles away.

I wasn't expecting that this trip would have resulted in me feeling these emotions about a place I honestly did not give too much thought about actually visiting in the first place. When I imagined falling in love in Scotland, I was imagining getting whisked away by a handsome brut in a kilt. Ha! I know, stereotypical cliche. Instead, I fell in love with the country itself. I can imagine living there as it already felt like home moments after my arrival.

Meanwhile, while I wait for the stars to align for this dream to come true, I will just continue to be a visitor. Now I have a goal to visit Scotland as often as I can (Shooting for every 1.5-2 years at minimum). I plan to visit a different part of Scotland in each trip.

I was fortunate to escape for a week to head back to my love in April of 2018. At this point, I decided I could only go for a week (financially and time wise). So the focus was to only spend that time in Edinburgh, and I am so glad that I did. I love that city so much. And my experience there the 2nd time was even more intense and beautiful than the first. I saw some things again, but also ventured into new places.

I opted to just rent a flat and live there like a local for a week. The apartment was perfect and a place I will stay at each time I'm back in the city as much as I can. Check it out here... Castle Hideaway Apartment.

I still need to work on a recap blog post of my 2018 trip - I promise to do that very soon. Stay tuned! I will also include more travel hacks and tips for going to Scotland, as well as the ins & outs of getting everything you can out of your visit to Edinburgh depending on how much time you have to spend there. Come back soon as well for a complete list of my favorite Scottish bloggers, small businesses and resources! I will update this post with those links once complete.

Me talking about Scotland so much has now inspired many others to make that trip, and I am beyond thrilled to see that the tourism into Scotland continues to boom.

I planned on making a return trip to my love this year for a 2nd sabbatical from work. However, due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, these plans are on hold. Hopefully I get to reunite with that piece of my soul sometime next year or early 2022. It feels like forever away, but time does move quickly and I know that this is just a very temporary delay.

So for those of you that ask "Carrie, why Scotland"? Well, now you know.

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