I have touched on Scotland with the seals, gannets, puffins and elusive otters. However Scotland is not just about the wildlife. My husband’s grandfather came from Scotland and it has always held a special allure for him.
Dunkeld,in Perthshire, is situated on the River Tay. We came here in July 2001; midsummer and peak tourist season, but the place was quiet. I just loved the cathedral, not for the cathedral itself, though, of course, it has its history and its merits, but for the location. The cathedral is separated from the River Tay by a verdant expanse of lawn. At this time of the year the grass was sprinkled with a carpet of exquisite tiny flowers. There was a bench down by the river and it was truly the most serene place I have ever encountered. The sun glistened on the water, and the Tay, which was quite shallow at this point, burbled away. A great spot just to relax, or to contemplate the meaning of ‘life, the universe and everything’.
Also in Perthshire, near Stirling, is Callander, a lovely little village at the gateway to the Trossachs National Park. On the outskirts of Callander there is a real find in the Trossachs Backpacker Hostel. This is a great area for walking or cycling. The hostel has its own cycling centre. Be careful as you walk out from the hostel on a July evening. On our walk we suddenly noticed hundreds, possibly thousands, of minute frogs on our stretch of road. Instantly we had to become aware of where we trod and avoiding frogs no bigger than your thumb nail, in the dusk, is very tricky indeed. But they were very cute.
We were actually in the area to see our son play with his school Pipes and Drums band at Stirling Castle and the Stirling Highland Games, so we didn’t do as much walking as we would have liked to. One walk we did without endangering the wildlife was to Bracklinn Falls. This was a very pretty walk through interesting woodland with some magnificent trees. The falls were impressive with huge rocks that looked as if giants had played a game tossing them about. Best of all … we were the only ones there. The perfect way to enjoy nature.
Highland Games are a feature of a Scottish summer and can be found all around the country. They are lots of fun if not a little bizarre. You will see Pipe bands, Highland dancing competitions and some very peculiar athletic events. Most familiar will be the tossing of the caber where a huge, kilt-clad fellow picks up what looks like a telegraph pole, ‘runs’ (it’s not easy to run carrying a telegraph pole!) several metres before tossing it tail over top to land somewhere in front of him. The angle of landing is important, as is the distance thrown, and a judge scampers along behind the ‘tosser’ (no slur on the character intended) to ensure a straight toss.
There is another, equally strange, event called the weight over the bar. In this event the athletes attempt to toss a 56 pound (4 stone or 26 kg) weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand!
For something a little more genteel: we spotted a flyer, in Callander, advertising a musical evening featuring an odd pairing of instruments; a fiddle and an orchestral harp. Curiously they worked well together and we really enjoyed the performance.
Edinburghis the capital of Scotland, but is not a huge bustling metropolis like London and should be visited. Be careful of arriving unprepared during August, like we did, as this is the time of the Edinburgh Festival and accommodation is scarce. We had grown up watching the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on television at New Year and were totally unaware that it was actually performed in August! (Pre-internet days – these days you would have no excuse for not having done your homework.) Tickets were very reasonably priced, unlike the ticket prices when the Tattoo came to Sydney a few years ago. Unless you have a pathological hatred of Pipes and Drums and marching bands this is a spectacle that you should not miss.
If the weather is unkind (highly probable), then the Our Dynamic Earth museum, on Holyrood Rd, is a great day out. There’s even a room with a towering chunk of ice on which you can try to leave your hand-print if you’re tough.
“Edinburgh’s 5 star Our Dynamic Earth invites you on a journey back through space and time 15,000 million years. Fly over glaciers as they carve out the planet’s surface before outsmarting dinosaurs facing extinction. Feel the Earth move as a volcano explodes beneath your feet and experience the chill of Polar Ice. Embark on 4DVENTURE on an epic journey of contrasts. Touch, smell, feel the adventure as you fly from a Polar base to deep within the tropical rainforest.”
A walk up Arthur’s Seat will give you fabulous panoramic views over Edinburgh and its environs. How many major cities have a volcano in their midst?