Two Weeks In Scotland And England With My Adult Son, Part 1: Scotland


I’ve recently returned from two weeks travel with my adult son in Scotland and England. Having drafted this post and watched it get longer and longer, I’ll publish in two parts. Scotland below, England to follow as soon as I can manage. I’ve bolded each day, like this, because if it’s hard for me to remember and track what we did I can only imagine how confusing it might be for you. Tally-ho!

Traveling in Edinburgh at 60

Edinburgh. You have to stop and stare and breathe a lot. Photo by my son.

Scotland was a revelation. That legendary land of dour people, terrible food, and worse weather? It doesn’t exist. Well, the weather is real. But the people are lovely, warm, funny, personal. The food is incredible – especially all the seafood. Even the rain, at least on our visit, was light and intermittent enough to allow for a lot of walking about.

So. We landed in Glasgow, on a Monday morning. It’s a funny little airport. The floor is covered with some kind of laminate to look like rocks, the walls by a photo mural of trees. Hint: If you have an American Express Platinum card you can find really great deals on business class. Companions fly half price, and then you can both lie down and sleep your way across the seas.

Glasgow feels like a funny little city itself – although, as the residents hasten to explain, in fact it’s pretty big. But the city spreads out, across neighborhoods, and feels sparse. Some of the architecture is beautiful, but a lot is very simple. Fitting for the city’s history of merchant traders.

A modern day merchant.

That first afternoon we walked to the Botanic Gardens and Kibble Palace (a quirky and worthwhile greenhouse conservatory), the University, and the West End. All quirky, now that I think about it. Glasgow feels like a place where people are engaged in projects and you are catching glimpses but nothing’s on display.

On Tuesday we took a train out to Stirling, to see the castle. Because, Scotland.

History in stone. My favorite parts were the garden, and a choir singing modern pieces in the Great Hall. Hint: Stirling’s royal structure is WAY less crowded than Edinburgh’s, so if you want to castle in relative quiet, this is it.

When we got back from the castle we walked up to Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. If you like a nice cathedral, with pews ornamented with the coats of arms of leading merchant families, and cemeteries where many of the interred are named Alexander, this is it. Again, quirky. Intimate.

We stayed at the Glasgow Marriott, because, Starwood points. Perfectly nice building, exceptionally nice staff. (I’ve listed all the accommodation and restaurant links at the end of the post).

Wednesday we made our way north to the Isle of Skye, to catch an evening ferry.

However, before we got to island skies and the personalities of granite, we had to rent a car. This was not fun. Confusion between Amex Platinum and Hertz, to say nothing of Hertz giving us an enormous SUV when we had asked for something teeny. The bonny banks of Loch Lomond are nae sae bonny when the effort of gripping a steering wheel blurs your vision.

Scotland’s A82 does not suffer large autos gladly.

Hint: Confirm everything about your rental before you leave, including the degree to which your credit card covers your insurance, and the size of your automobile.

But oh the higher Western Highlands are something. I took no photos, perhaps because that death-avoiding grip froze my hands, but believe me Glen Coe is one of the most beautiful places on this green earth. Also the greenest. Although I know my father’s family’s roots are in the Scottish Lowlands, there’s a river here called the Carnoch, and in my imagination, when the sun shone my ancestors lay on their backs on these hillsides and ignored their hunger for the sky.

We did finally manage to muscle our way to the Isle of Skye, and the Caledonia Mac ferry in the port of Uig. Unfamiliar with the process, I asked the ticket taker when the boat would leave. “The petrol tank needs filling,” he said. I, American, was bewildered. I’d asked a clear question. “But,” I said, “When do you think the boat will leave?” “That I canna tell ye,” he said. Off he walked, turning back to grin as though I were the funniest thing in the world. We left on time.

Hint: Do not hurry through the Highlands.

Mackerel skies and a slate-blue sea delivered us to Lochmaddy, from whence we drove to Langass Lodge, on the west side of North Uist in the outer Hebrides. The hotel is splendid. My room was teeny, and cosy, and beautifully tartaned in tones of heather and bracken. You know how when you travel you suddenly covet furnishings you’ve never wanted before?

The summer sunsets out my window, well, well, well.

And, five minutes walk through the gate and up a path, stand the archeological artifacts known simply as “standing stones.” Surrounded by ferns that grow as tarweed and thistles do in my back yard. Prehistoric mankind, kept company by prehistoric fronds.

We spent the following day, Thursday, with my friend Cara and her family. They live on North Uist, and were the primary reason we decided to travel so far. Although, to be honest, my son and I both love remote. The day began in drizzle, but just as we wandered onto a white sand beach the sun broke through. My son played tag with 7-year old twin girls. Cara and I sat, and talked, and were happy to be friends.

Family photography in the Hebrides

Photo by Cara, of Bird and Bear. I love how she caught this moment like a dance. Hint: Hire her to photograph your family.

That night we had the most amazing seafood dinner ever, at a local pub. Again, a trip to Scotland would be worthwhile if only for the food.

On Friday, my son and I drove around to other landmarks on both North and South Uist. Stones and history. We happened into a local cafe, where as it happened, a group had come from a funeral. Everyone wore black. Two grown brothers shook hands with the guests. A couple who looked to be the mother and father, older, sat sad, at a corner table. We ate chips and drank tea. I felt the privilege of travel keenly.

Time came to take the ferry back to Skye. Chilly evening, wind, marine air, exhilaration.

(Wearing Barbour, Madewell jeans, Aquatalia boots, a new scarf. Because I knew I’d bring mostly black, white, gray, and brown clothes, and would be need both black and brown shoes, I bought two new scarves for the trip to give my neutrals more depth. This one, gray and white bleach print on cotton, on sale at Farfetch.)

The ferry was late. Someone kept me company. Well-scarfed himself.

The whole trip reminded me of when he was a boy playing soccer and I ferried him to and from his games. Time spent looking forward from vehicles, talking, pausing, talking, pausing. Of course I can still see him under the beard.

Since we were arriving late night in Uig, we had booked a hotel room in nearby Portree. The front desk staff at the Rosedale Hotel very kindly stayed up until midnight to let us in, and we awoke on Saturday morning to this harbor view. Hey you, you who chose to paint that house pink, can I be your best friend?

Breakfast – more smoked salmon in my case, oatmeal for my son – and back in the car. We had planned to drive east to Inverness, and then south to Edinburgh, but it became clear to me that I wasn’t up to navigating our galumph of an SUV for a final 3.5 hour leg. So we ditched the car at the Inverness airport Hertz, snagged a lift back to the city, and hopped on a train. The van driver answered our questions, unironically, “Aye.”

Phew.

Hint: Trains are awesome.

Edinburgh

As everyone besides me probably already knew, Edinburgh is gorgeous. The Old Town all cobbles and castles, the New Town (funny use of the term “New”  to a Californian), graceful Georgian townhouses. Lined up in crescents, occasionally. We stayed at an Airbnb flat – my first time using the service. The stripped wood doors and floors like works of art.

As we were in Leith, about 20 minutes walk from the center of the city, walk we did, on the evening of our arrival, to the best gay pub in the city. The Regent Bar. Welcoming as heck, for a young man and his mother. (Hint: 10:30pm is too late to get dinner at most pubs.) Then, as their kitchen was closed by the time we arrived, we walked back through the city to a Chinese take-out and home to the flat.

To wake up and walk all day Sunday.

If you love architecture, and striking views, you have to go to Edinburgh. The place exemplifies design, from simple doors on simple houses, to its Castle, which can be seen from city streets, high on a hill. Striking views that inform your experience at every turn.

For some reason, Edinburgh also has particularly good vintage shops. My son found wonderful stuff.

I didn’t shop. I did test out the premise that one can wear sneakers even in an elegant city. My son took my picture unaware, as I leaned against a wall to check restaurant listings.

Sneaker verdict: Yes, marginally acceptable, as long as one embraces one’s Artsy Cousin. With help from that intentionally neutral color scheme: new brown and black scarf from Uncommon Goods. Truly comfortable shoes from Ecco. Oak NY dress, UNIQLO down jacket, Bottega Veneta messenger bag (black & sage available now), Ray-Ban aviators.

That phone check led us here. The best meal of our trip. I thought of Janet and her blog also named The Gardner’s Cottage. I think she’d like the restaurant. Quirky, intimate, elegant. The Scottish way, it seems.

We did more wandering Monday. In fact we did more than wander; in the morning we hiked up into the park hills for a view of the city and back down through a wide meadow. That afternoon we took a bus to the airport from the train station. On to England.

Goodbye Scotland, I can’t wait to come back. Hint: Next time I’ll sacrifice suitcase space and bring light hiking boots. The scenery both demands and rewards. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing on this trip. Even the mistakes were part of it all.

My Dream Western Scottish Highlands And Islands Vacation, For The Next Trip

I’ve already started noodling a return. Do you do that? This isn’t the thing where you learn from misery, it’s when you’ve loved a place and a trip so much you want to dive deeper.

Based on our experience, and my dreams, it’d go something like this.

  • Land in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a fancy small city, which lends itself to visions of aristocracy. It’d be fun to emerge from one of those glorious Georgian townhouses every morning, and sleep cosseted, albeit jet-lagged, in your first evening. Here, perhaps. But if you really prefer a big hotel and want to be dead center of the action, we peeked into the Balmoral and it was pretty awesome. (Stay 2-3 nights).
  • Take a train to Inverness, pick up your car at the train station (Hertz lets you arrange pickups there although the office is out at the airport), drive through the Highlands, maybe at a lodge, or a castle or a fancy cottage (2 nights). This would be a flexible leg. If you’re dying to see Loch Ness (I am not), stay in Inverness for one night. If you want nothing more than green Highlands, spend both nights in the countryside. And, if you can’t bear the thought of driving on the left-side of the road, and it is hard, take a train and arrange transport to your hotels from the stations.
  • Finish this Highland drive/train journey in the Isle of Skye. If you’re still carless, rent a car in Kyle of Lochalsh, explore the Isle, stay in Portree as we did or up at this amazing-looking place (1 night). BTW, I found driving on small roads easier than on the small highways, where everyone speeds right at you.
  • Take a car ferry to the Outer Hebrides, from Uig. Visit your choice of Outer Hebrides islands. I vote for North Uist, because beaches and few crowds, and Lewis, for these standing stones, because standing stones. Return to the mainland several days later, this time further north, from Stornaway to Ullapool. (2-3 nights at places in North Uist and Lewis).
  • Drop off your rental car back in Lochalsh and hire a driver to take you down to Glen Coe. (This is a fantasy trip. If it becomes real, take a train to Fort William and talk to your hotel about local transport.) Stay near Glencoe simply, or here, fancy, and hike this extraordinarily beautiful area (2-3 nights).
  • Be driven (or take the train via Fort William) down to Glasgow. (Can you tell the road around Loch Lomond scarred me?) Stay in a Glasgow airbnb because it’s a very homey city, where people live and work visibly, and you should live like the locals (1-2 nights). This one seems quite Glaswegian to me.  Fly out next day.

Resources For The Trip We Actually Took

Hotels

  1. Glasgow Marriott in Glasgow
  2. Langass Lodge on North Uist
  3. Rosedale Hotel in Portree on Isle of Skye
  4. Henry’s Flat in Edinburgh (my airbnb referral link. If you use it I think I get some kind of credit?)

Notable Meals and/or Pub Vists

  1. Dinner at Two Fat Ladies in Glasgow
  2. Dinner at The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow
  3. Lunch at the Glencoe Gathering in Glencoe
  4. Dinner at Westford Inn on North Uist (pub with seafood platter for days)
  5. Dinner at Hamersay House on North Uist
  6. Drinks at Regent Bar in Edinburgh
  7. Dinner at The Gardener’s Cottage in Edinburgh

England post coming up as soon as I can manage;).

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25 Comments

  • Trains really are fantastic. My fave way to travel, hands down. If there were some reasonable way to get to NYC from TO, by train, I might go there more often. Getting there by plane is so awful, I generally just desist.

    And that photo of you in the driving wind, on the ferry, has reminded me that, like Ireland, Scotland is prob not my optimal vacation spot – what with my misery at any weather but sun (and the fact that we in Canada already get enough bad weather to keep anyone occupied forever). Beautiful terrain but I think I can love it best on film.

    08/09/17
    11:51 am
    Lisa said...

    @K-Line, This is good point. Living in California, I never require sun on holiday. And this summer has been so hot, it was actually a pleasure to be surrounded by gray occasionally. Good thing movies and tv directors are so happy to shoot there;).

  • biggest misconception about Scotland is that it has bad food – I thought the food was great and on such a high level too. It is true that if Scotland had better weather that it would be too crowded bc everyone would move there.

    08/09/17
    11:52 am
    Lisa said...

    @couldashouldawoulda, Ha! That is so true. Oh a sunny day it is paradise.

  • When I lived in Wales, my boss was a Scot and went home every weekend to care for her elderly mother. She took me along a few times, and I fell in love with Scotland. We had a conference in E-burgh and got to see a lot of the city’s highlights privately.

    xo

    08/09/17
    11:53 am
    Lisa said...

    @pigtowndesign, Oh the private highlights must have been amazing. I walked by those townhouses sighing, imagining their interior beauty.

  • Ah, beautiful Scotland. This brought back great memories. My sister and I drove all around Scotland several years ago. Saw Glencoe in a mist – all green and mysterious. Loved the Isle of Skye. Agree that Edinbourgh is wonderful. If you return I would highly recommended traveling up to Orkney Island- stones circles, mysterious mounds with Viking graffiti, and Neolithic ruins.

    And yes an SUV would have been scary on the one lane roads which were an adventure even in a small car.

    08/09/17
    11:54 am
    Lisa said...

    @Lynn, All green and mysterious, yes! And I think you are probably right, that I’d have to adventure further north, I can only imagine how cool it is up there.

  • What a wonderful trip, Lisa. We love Scotland too. Edinburgh was marvelous. Was that Arthur’s Seat you hiked up to? We travelled by ferry to different islands (the Orkneys) which were amazing. The food indeed was great. Especially the kippers for breakfast, which were a revelation. My favourite castle was Cawdor, smaller and privately owned and featured in Macbeth, so I could us all my good Macbeth quotes when we were there:) By the way… you look fab in your dress and down jacket and sneakers. The epitome of unconscious cool.

    08/09/17
    12:20 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Sue Burpee, Yes, it was Arthur’s Seat! I didn’t make it all the way to the top, we went up the steep rocky route, and my shoes were insufficient to summit. But, it was so, so gorgeous. I am happy to hear that travelers like you also like Scotland. And thanks on the outfit, sometimes necessity treats us well!

  • Your trip sounds wonderful. May I add to your fantasy trip the island of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides? It’s a day trip from Oban by ferry and bus, to a magical few square miles of history. Supposedly Christianity came to Scotland from Iona, and many Scottish kings are buried there, including Macbeth (!). I haven’t been there for many decades, so I can’t be sure what it’s like now, but when I visited it was a place that gave me an almost mystical sense of connection to the past.

    08/09/17
    12:21 pm
    Lisa said...

    @MJ, A mystical connection to the past is exactly how I felt in Glen Coe, and then again on Uist. I see that Iona doesn’t allow cars, it must still be magical.

  • So fun to read this after JUST returning from Scotland yesterday – what an amazing place! This McCloud was in heaven on the Isle of Skye ;) Like you, we’re ready for a return trip!

    08/09/17
    12:22 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets), Oh how fun! I would love to really explore Skye next visit, with a smaller car and more time. And I would point others to visit you via the link in your profile here, as you have wonderful photos with much more detail than I managed!

  • Thank you for sharing your photos and impressions of your trip. I have not been to Scotland, but now I really want to!

    08/09/17
    12:37 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Carole, My pleasure! I really can’t recommend it enough. So much more to see and experience than I knew.

  • This was such a treat to read – I took my mother to Scotland as a retirement gift last year (thanks to miles racked up as a business traveler), and it was truly a trip of a lifetime. Edinburgh and Skye were highlights. We were too afraid to drive (of both the roads and of the likely squabbling that would ensue) and hired a private tour driver to take us from Fort William to Skye one day, and then from Fort William to Culloden and Inverness the next. Trains took care of the rest. The driver was surprisingly affordable and had a wealth of knowledge as well as a keen sense of when we were talked out and just wanted to enjoy the scenery. I can’t wait to return, and will add the Outer Hebrides to my next itinerary.

    08/09/17
    5:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Claire, What a wonderful present for your mama. Must have made her so happy. And I saw a lot of cars with a Advance Hire Car only sign in the window, can’t remember the exact wording, so I think it must be more of a commodity business than it would be here. If you think about it, all us RH-side drivers descend on Scotland’s tiny roads for the scenery, the distances are not that long, one can probably get a driver for, as you say, a surprisingly reasonable rate.

  • Just a wonderful description of your trip with your son whom incidentally, reminds me of my own. True inspiration for us all. I thank you,
    Luci

    08/09/17
    5:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @luci, Thank you so much! I am happy to remind you of your son:).

  • Your travel posts always make me want to go! Husband’s grandmother was from Glasgow, to this day he still likes to imitate her delightful accent.

    08/09/17
    5:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @MaryAnne, My work is done;).

  • What a glorious post! I’m being to “noodle” a trip to Scotland myself, and your notes are most inspiring. I’ve no interest in driving — did that to drive from London to the Yorkshire Dales with my daughter in 2001, and while I managed well enough, I was never relaxed about it. And I had a much smaller vehicle than yours.
    Add my compliments to the others re that outfit. Perfection. A brilliant case for the potential elegance of a good pair of sneakers — elegance in the best meaning of the word, that of being “pleasantly ingenious, simple”
    And your son is gorgeous, isn’t he?!

    08/09/17
    5:31 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Frances/Materfamilias, I channel you in the sneakers! I thought of that. And yes, thank you for noticing how beautiful my son is;). I think you will absolutely adore Scotland – dying to hear where you decide to go!

  • LOVED Edinburgh when I went 35 years ago. The city center is probably exactly the same.
    I have a lovely hysterical 100% embarrassing travel funeral story which some day I’ll share. Your encounter with the funeral goers was much more appropriate.
    Can’t wait for the second half of the trip,

    08/09/17
    5:37 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Nelson Bartley, Share! Share! :) And in order to set expectations, the second half of the trip is much smaller, more like the third third. Just Brighton, to see friends, and London. But lots of museuming, so…

  • Oh, yes, to the return. Last year, with my partner, I went to Shetland (as far north in Scotland as you can get), and while we had various misadventures, we leave for a second round in two weeks. This time, we’re staying at a lighthouse and planning much more time to do nothing at all. Last time it felt too hurried, and I am not one who travels to hurry. I do enough of that in real life. Another lesson was to bring a flask for the walks we will be doing, because whisky suddenly made complete sense in that landscape.

    08/09/17
    6:17 pm
    Lisa said...

    @mustard, Whisky is everywhere. When we arrived in the Rosedale in Portree, at midnight, the lovely front desk clerk asked us if we wanted our welcome whiskeys.

    Staying in a lighthouse? Heaven. I too want to go again and go more slowly. I am glad we took the fast pass across a lot of the country for the first trip, to see what it was like, but on the return I’d like to settle in a bit.

  • One of the most meaningful things I’ve done was a trip I did with my adult son in 2011 to a number of Greek islands. He had just inherited his father’s house on an island there, so we met up at the house and then took small planes and ferries to arrive at another island where he had inherited some land. We ended up in Athens, where we had been together when he was small and when I was still married to his father. We had a wonderful time, with much laughter. The convulsing kind of laughter, where your stomach hurts. He is married, with small children, so it is rare that I get that kind of time with him.

    08/09/17
    6:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @MarcyLuna, It sounds astonishing. Once in a lifetime – although, maybe you will go back again with him and his family when they are big enough to enjoy a trip like that.

  • Your picture wearing the sneakers made me laugh. I bought those same shoes, in a different colorway, for my trip to Australia. I hope I looked as good in them as you look in them! My travel wardrobe was gray, black, white, and navy. I wore the light hiking boots on the plane.
    Scotland looks fabulous, and your son is beautiful!

    08/09/17
    6:29 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Christine, Great minds think alike, except I forgot my hiking boots! I wore the Aquatalias on the plane, if I remember;). But I do like your color choices. As well as your opinion of my son;).

  • GREEN with envy…and feeling happy that you and your son had a great vacation.
    You look so comfortable and well prepared for the weather …you still are my beacon in the blogosphere.
    XO

    08/10/17
    9:16 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, Such kind words! I only wish I were as content in daily life as you are, so, it must take all sorts:).

    Maybe you and your husband will go to Scotland some day. It is a place with something for pretty much everyone, except sunbathers;).

  • Reminds me of the many holidays I spent i Scotland, mostly the highlands, as a teenager.

    08/10/17
    9:16 am
    Lisa said...

    @Chicatanyage, If you ever go back, I’d love to hear how it has or has not changed.

  • I spent a few days in Edinburgh in late May and was going to eat at The Gardner’s Cottage but my traveling companion was sick…now regretting that. Or I need to go back there! But did have amazing Indian food (even better than London!) there and some great seafood anyway.

    08/10/17
    9:17 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jen, Yes! Both to going back, and to Indian food. We ate Indian food in Stirling, delicious, and in Inverness, also delicious, and better in both cases than what we had in London. Go figure!

  • Oh! My! Gosh! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this travelogue and all the details. We haven’t yet (somehow) done Scotland, although hubby’s ancestry is mostly Scottish and it’s on our bucket list. Your post really is a big help. Thanks for all the tips.

    Your son’s photograph made my heart skip a beat (what a beautiful face he has), and your words that followed made me tear up. I’m tearing up again now.

    Welcome home.

    08/10/17
    2:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Ann, My pleasure. I think you will love it when you go. And thank you for the welcome home, and for noticing my son’s beautiful face. All of us who have cared for someone can cry now:). xox.

  • Ah, the privilege of travel and spending unhurried time with an adult child! This struck me the most: “Time spent looking forward from vehicles, talking, pausing, talking, pausing. Of course I can still see him under the beard.” I just love this. It’s what I miss about driving my son to practice. You write so beautifully, Lisa.

    08/10/17
    2:28 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Leslie K, Parallel play, the deepest connection of all some times. Thank you so much, and for giving me this place to become a better writer.

  • As a reader who lives in Glasgow (and has lived in Edinburgh), I loved reading about your trip. You have even given me ideas of some new places to explore in Scotland. Your appreciation of small treasures was well rewarded. The Glasgow air bnb you suggest would indeed be a good choice.

    08/15/17
    10:31 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan L, I’m honored! I hope North Uist might be one of the places;). And if I picked a good Glasgow airbnb I am so pleased because I love to try to get a quick sense of a place and get close.

  • Hi — We go to Scotland every year usually in October. However, this will be our first visit to Shetlands and I was thrilled to find that one of your readers loved the area enough to go back.

    The Orkneys are wonderful for different reasons, but they connect the Shetlands because of history and proximity.

    I’m just so glad you enjoyed your trip and there are now many more places for us to visit thanks to you!

    08/15/17
    10:32 am
    Lisa said...

    @Margaret Robinson, You are welcome, and I can only imagine how great a annual trip must be. The Orkney’s are now on my list:).

  • I watched Shetland on Netflix last month – it stoked my interest in a trip to northern Scotland and the islands. If you need something to watch to remind you of the trip (at least – remind you of the scenery, as it sounds like your trip did not involve a murder mystery, thank goodness), you might enjoy this series!

    Thanks for the tips on where & how to go.

    08/15/17
    10:54 am
    Lisa said...

    @Andrea, I loved Shetland! Watched it snowing I was going to Scotland, so, extra fun:! And no, no murders;).

  • Oh how wonderful. I will be going to Scotland this fall, for the first time and I am looking forward to it tremendously. I’ll be part of a small group, mostly around Edinburgh and Inverness, but I’d probably like to see more at some point.

    08/15/17
    10:54 am
    Lisa said...

    @Mardel, Oh have an absolutely wonderful time. You have to go to the weaving studio in Edinburgh then, my next post will have the info.

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