Scotland road trip Aberdeen to Edinburgh

Scotland road trip Aberdeen to Edinburgh

Scottish Road Trip in 2012

This is Part 1 of a 4 part series. Links to the other posts are at the bottom of the page.

Union Street

I recently had a Swedish friend over to visit in Scotland. Aberdeen has (sort of) become my second home so I don’t always view the city as a visitor anymore. It was lovely to have a chance to explore this part of the world again. We only had 4 days, not a lot of time.

Market Street

I decided that we would do a walking tour of Aberdeen the first half day. We stopped in at the Tourism office in Union Street and they kindly printed out a walking tour for us. Just a note here. The Tourism office is not open all day, every day. They open later than most of the other shops in the area, they close for lunch, half-days on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays. Also there is one, maybe two people at most to help. Aberdeen is clearly not a massive tourist destination.

Union Terrace Gardens

The tour starts at Castlegate, which is the furtherest end of Union Street – not too far from the Tourism office. The walk weaves around Union Street taking in historic buildings, statues and examples of Aberdeen architecture. The printed brochure includes a map and interesting information. For more on what to do in Aberdeen read – here.

Aberdeen is known as either the Silver City or the Granite City due to the silver granite buildings that comprise most of the city. It’s the third biggest city in Scotland and is a major fishing harbour. However fishing is small fry compared to the oil industry. Aberdeen is the oil capital of all Europe.

Union Square

The walk takes around an hour and a half, depending on how long you make it. If you have time in hand, and want to include a bit of shopping, or people watching, the two main shopping malls are Union Square and the combo of St Nicholas and Bon Accord Centre, which are right next to each other.

You’ll find Union Square by going down Market Street off Union Street. Head down towards the harbour and then right into Guild Street. The other two shopping centres are behind where Market Street meets Union Street.

St Nicholas Kirk

As a greenie I love the plethora of UK charity shops which usually stock exceptionally good quality used clothing. I’ve bought an almost new Marks and Spencer leather jacket for £6. (Do vegetarians wear leather? I wear recycled leather clothes but not new. Read – this – for an interesting take.) Look out for charity shops along Union Street.
There are more of them further along Union Street and up Chapel Street. My favorite area in all Aberdeen is The Spital where Old Aberdeen is. Read about it – here.

I don’t eat out much in the UK. I find restaurants very expensive and the food is not great. Service is, sorry to say this, OK. My view is tainted by the fact that I’m vegetarian. Very rarely on my travels anywhere have I found a good vegetarian meal and most Western European places are reluctant to modify a meal to accommodate me.

Charity shops

I prefer to buy a yummy take-out and eat next to a river, in a park, on a beach or even relaxing in a hotel room. No fighting, no stress and no disappointing end to an evening.

Supermarket food is brilliant and service is usually excellent.

In Part 2 – here – I talk about where to find food. Part 3 – here  – deals with road trips via the coast, stone circles, the Cairgorms National Park and the Royal Deeside area. In Part 4 – here – I talk about Edinburgh.

For more on Scotland visit – here.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Scotland Part Two

Scotland Part Two

Scottish heather

Your road trip to Edinburgh could include the Whisky Trail. Edinburgh is the capital city and home to Holyrood or the Scottish parliament. It is also the location of Edinburgh Castle. It is much, much more touristy and you will find museums and homage to all things Scottish at every turn. It all happens along the Royal Mile. There is a massive Edinburgh International Festival once a year around August called The Fringe. Think stand-up comedy and theatre. It’s a place for newcomers and old timers to show what they can do. The whole world seems to rock up for this event and if you are not inclined to mega crowds you will be glad to have missed it. If you love bagpipes you could plan to visit around the time of the Edinburgh Tattoo. Shopping in Edinburgh is not all that. Sorry to say. The shopping area in Edinburgh is Princes Street. I recommend the Haymarket area for a walkabout. Edinburgh has a few famous musicians, namely KT Tunstall, Shirley Mason of Garbage and Idlewild.

Ferry to Isle of Harris

After a day in Edinburgh you can drive to the north-east via Stirling and the castle which is geared to tourists. Swing past the Falkirk Wheel which is an engineering feat. It’s a boat-lift shaped something like The London Eye, it rotates boats in a circle in lieu of a boat lock and connects the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Aberdeen is the third largest city. It’s a working city. Aberdeen was once a fishing village but is now the oil capital of Europe. All the buildings are built of big grey bocks of granite. The east coast is not as classically scenic as the west coast. The beauty of the eastern areas lies just inland where beautiful villages dot the area. If you cut across from Edinburgh to the east coast area you can visit quaint towns like Arbroath, Stonehaven and Montrose. Balmoral Castle, the Queens favorite, is also located in the Royal Deeside area not far from Aberdeen. You could drive up from Edinburgh via Perth and Dundee to Aberdeen. Aberdeen is also on the Megabus route and you can add on another 3 – 4 hours from Glasgow should you wish to go direct to Aberdeen. It’s a bum-numbing 12 hours from London. Aberdeen’s most famous musician is Annie Lennox.
Piper playing in central Aberdeen

Scotland has banknotes from the Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank. English banknotes are accepted in Scotland but the reverse is not always the case. So make sure you spend your Scottish pounds before you leave Scotland. Scotland is not metricated so road signs and your car speedometer are in miles. Glasgow to Skye is about 200kms as the crow flies but in real time the trip will work out more than a straight journey.
Things you really should try to do while in Scotland are. Try a typical Scottish breakfast complete with black pudding. The Scots do a good and hearty breakfast. You should try vegetarian haggis if you don’t eat offal and we are led to believe the best steaks come from Scotland, the Aberdeen Angus.
Narrow country roads in Scotland

Do find a piece of family tartan. Almost everyone has a connection to a family or clan in Scotland and it makes you feel part of the country.
Please watch Scottish Star Trek on You Tube Scottish Star Trek so you can practice listening to Glaswegian patter which is nigh impossible to understand. These people are speaking English but you would never know it.
Do try the local ales. They take their beer drinking very seriously in the whole of the UK and you can spend hours browsing the supermarket shelves with the ranges on offer. Beer is not just beer. It’s a bitter, or a lager, or an ale and the brewers are masters. If beer is not your thing, then try an Iron Bru. It’s the local fizzy drink of choice. Scotland is the only European country where a cola is not the top soft drink.
St Nicholas Kirk Aberdeen

Don’t eat out too often if you can help it. It’s so expensive and often disappointing. Some pubs offer great food and good value but the UK is not known for it’s cuisine. The range of ready meals and imported fruits and cheeses in the supermarkets is staggering.
Lookout for the highland cows on your way, they’re easy to spot and are so cute and shaggy.
Try www.laterooms.com  for accommodation. You’re looking at from £50 per night for a room. Usually includes breakfast and the standard of accommodation is good in the UK.
Outsider music festival

Scotland is colder and wetter than England. It is colder in the west than the east and as you head north to Aberdeen it get’s even colder. The BBC weather site shows Edinburgh in June and July months at the height of their summer as having average 5 – 6 hours sunlight a day, average maximum temperatures as 17’C – 18’C and average monthly rainfall as much as 83 mm. The sun comes up about 04.30 am and goes down about 10.00 pm. Read more about the weather and seasons here – Scotland weather and seasons.

Stone circle Templewood

It is the opposite in winter when average day temperates are  6’C to 7 ‘C and at night it will be close to freezing. The sun comes up at 08.45 am and goes down 15.45 pm and average sunlight hours are 1 hour a day. It can be a grey country. Bands like Wet Wet Wet and Travis singing “Why does it always rain on me?” are telling us something.
It does snow in Scotland. As you drive about you will see snow poles on the sides of the roads and big yellow bins with a mix of grit and salt to melt the snow on the roads. In Aberdeen it is possible to see the Northern Lights in winter. If you have a world map handy you will see that Aberdeen is on the same latitude as Moscow. Scotland is a long way up north.
If you are going in winter pack warm and always pack a Mackintosh – aka a raincoat. Scotland is famous for it’s inventors. Some other well known  inventors apart from Mackintosh and his raincoat include James Simpson – anaesthetics, Johan Loudon MacAdam – tarred roads, Alexander Crum Brown – chemical bonds, Thomas Telford – iron bridges, Joseph Lister – antiseptics, James Boyd Dunlop – tyres, John Napier – the decimal point and Sir Alexander Flemming – penicillin. This is by no means all the Scottish inventors and a Google search will yield some surprises. The Scots are canny lot not only with their money.
Edinburgh Tattoo – tattoodonkey.com

It’s not just the country but it’s people that are so much a part of the experience. Get cracking looking up your ancestors and head north to find your roots. The next time you hear the bag pipes you can check to see if the piper is a wearing your clan tartan.

Click here to go to Scotland Part 1.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Outsider music festival – Peatbog Faeries

Scotland

Scotland

Holiday in Scotland in 2011

Scottish heritage shop

Scotland is to England like chalk is to cheese. If you plan to give Scotland as miss because you have been to England, think again. Scotland has a ruggedness and a character all of it’s own. The Scots are so down to earth and friendly you’ll wonder why you didn’t skip England and just head straight up north.

The population of Scotland is just over 5 million. It’s a small country, about 79 000 km2, which means getting around is relatively easy. Most entry flights to Scotland terminate in Glasgow, however many budget flights terminate in London. You may plan a day or two in London before making your way north. I leave that to you.
Megabus

The cheapest way to get to Scotland from London is via Megabus – megabus. The London bus terminus is a 10 min walk around the corner from the London Victoria Station. The London Victoria Station does not have escalators, or lifts, so make sure you can carry your bags up the stairs. It’s not as deep as some of the other tube stations but it’s still a schlep.

Glasgow by Sven Hagenberg

Consider basing yourself in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. They are located south of Scotland, but are central, making it an easy base from where you can do day trips. They are also the biggest cities in Scotland. Go to Google maps UK to get a feel for the layout of the country – map of Scotland

Rabbie Burns

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are about 9 ½ hours by bus from London. Megabus bookings open up a good few months ahead. Make sure you book early to bag the cheapie seats. They go up substantially if you leave it too late. The buses leave early-ish in the morning. You can also travel overnight if you prefer, but then you will leave nearer to midnight. Megabus services depart daily for most destinations in the UK and Scotland.

Skyline in Aberdeen

Your best bet is to hire a car to get around Scotland. I suggest Enterprise Car Hire www.enterprise.co.uk for the best deal. The current rate is approximately £12 – 14 per day for an A group car such as a Ford Ka. This excludes petrol, but includes unlimited mileage and insurance. Petrol is about £1.20 per litre when oil prices are lower. Book as soon as you can. I suggest you collect and drop off the car in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Remember Scotland is NOT England. You will have to pay a drop-off fee of around £75 if you drive to England. Traffic in and around London can be really bad and you could find yourself gridlocked. Remember central London has congestion taxes. Rather take the Megabus if you have to return to London, or one of the trains.

The three major cities in Scotland are very different in character. Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland. It’s my favourite. Not considered the prettiest, although I would disagree. Glasgow is the working capital, the art and music capital and the shopping and party hub of Scotland. It’s brash, working class and in your face. It’s also fun, trendy, arty and the centre of most Scottish music. Think Wet Wet Wet, Franz Ferdinand, Ultravox, Primal Scream, Donovan, Fratellis, Texas, Love and Money, Glasvegas, Hipsway, Travis, Jerry Rafferty, Big Country, Jesus and Mary Chain, Deacon Blue, Simple Minds, Hue and Cry, Belle and Sebastien, The Delgados, Biffy Clyro, Paolo Nutini, Snow Patrol, Fairground Attraction.
Scotch mist on the Isle of Skye

Phew!

There must be something in the water. Glasgow is crawling with universities and colleges including some world famous faculties like the medical school where a doctor inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Scottish flag – St Andrews Cross

Glasgow has loads of art galleries and museums. Their art colleges have guided tours and check out GOMA (Gallery Of Modern Art) which is free and has strange modern art. Glasgow is also the home of Charles Rennie Macintosh and his art nouveau followers. His influence on architecture and design is highly evident. They have some quaint original Tea Rooms where you can take tea in the old style. There is plenty of shopping. (The South African in me loved Nelson Mandela Square.) You can also visit the old style tenements, which were ghettos before, and where the likes of Billy Connolly grew up.

I fell in love with the Glasgow train station and took a train to Paisley. No more scarves anymore and Paisley was a bit run down, but passing in and out the station was enough for me. The River Clyde where the old boatyards were located, cuts through the city. Glasgow used to be a city in disrepair but it was on the receiving end of massive grants and it shows. You can see lots of funky modern architecture and renovated old buildings.
Crinan Marina

If you decide to do a road trip, which I recommend, from Glasgow head north-west toward Fort William via Loch Lomond. Ben Nevis and the ski-ing area of Aviemore are in the heart of the highlands and are near Fort William. Check out if there any music festivals around that time. T-in-the-Park and Rockness are two big music festivals in Scotland. A day at one of them is an amazing experience, a full weekend can be great, but oh so long. There are also plenty smaller music festivals.

Highland cow

Back to your road trip. Start veering west to the Isle of Skye. Skye is scenic and old world. They still speak a bit of Gaelic there and local TV is in Gaelic. If you have time I suggest taking a ferry to the the Hebrides. They still manufacture their own heat from the peat which they dig out of the bogs and they weave their own fabrics. Ever heard of Harris Tweed? Nike manufacture sneakers from it. You see place names in Gaelic and they speak even more Gaelic than on Skye. It’s so rural and remote that the roads appear to be designed for sheep and not cars.

Coming back from Isle of Skye, head back to the mainland and east toward Inverness taking in Loch Ness. Along the way are loads of castles and prehistoric monuments. There are road signs indicating these monuments. Some stone circle you can get up close and personal with, while some are only seen from the outside as you walk past them. If you have a road map, the prehistoric monuments are marked. Plan to visit them in advance so you don’t drive past them by mistake. Prehistoric monuments include long barrows and stone circles. Scotland has stone circles galore and castles in various states of repair and disrepair.

Click here to go to Scotland Part 2.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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