Have you ever visited a foreign country that immediately felt like ‘home’ to you? Of course, the scenery, cultural customs, accents and food are all different than what you know. But, instead, you experience a strange stirring of familiarity and comfort. I felt that way during my Scottish Highlands travel experience last month – with the added benefit of sensing that time had slowed down for just a few days.
I was invited by VisitScotland as part of their Year of Natural Scotland 2013 celebration, which highlights the diversity of natural wonders, green accommodations, and outdoor activities that this nation offers visitors each year. In other words, there’s a lot more to Scotland than touring Edinburgh and Loch Ness…and I’m not just talking about trying whiskeys and haggis, which is really tasty by the way!
In addition to meeting a wide range of Green Tourism Business Scheme eco-certified accommodation managers and guiding companies (some of which will be featured in our green vacation collection in the coming months), I had the pleasure of taking a wonderful, four-day tour From Glasgow to Inverness By Any Means hosted by Macs Adventure.
Our small group of six tourism professionals from all over the world (e.g. Austria, Egypt, Spain, Sweden, U.S.) plus our affable South African-born, now Scottish, lead guide, Neil, set off for four days of walking, biking, boating, sea kayaking, hiking and even flying on a hydroplane all with the aim of discovering a lovely part of the Scottish Highlands from a different vantage point.
We were busy, but not harried by the schedule. Instead, I felt as though there was time to take in the sounds and colors of Scotland (there are many more colors than the traditional green) as well as time to think and appreciate the spectacle of wildlife and the friendly nature of the Scottish people.
Scottish Highlands Travel Experience Highlights
There were many high points of the trip, but I’ve noted below my most favorite bits for you to consider as you plan your next trip to Scotland:
- Hydroplane ride from Glasgow to Loch Lomond: If the weather is on your side, this is the best way to grasp the beauty the Scottish West Coast landscape with its lochs, isles, castles, villages, and mountains. I was lucky enough to sit up front as the “co-captain” who wasn’t responsible for anything but taking in the views. A short 40 minutes later, we landed on Loch Lomond next to the historic Drovers Inn, which is a comfortable stop-off point with décor that’s a taxidermist’s dream including a grizzly bear, a two-headed lamb and other animals in action alongside an informal restaurant.
- Hiking / Walking Trails: Whether it’s the West Highland Way, which we took from the Drovers Inn to Crianlarich, or the South Loss Ness Trail, there are a number of connected, scenic, well-marked and well-maintained trails throughout Scotland – many of which you can embark on a self-guided walking or biking tour of your own (with the bonus of having your luggage transported for you each day).
- Biking the Caledonian Canal (along with the Great Glen Cycleway) to Loch Ness: This was a wonderful day-long ride that intermediate bikers will surely enjoy. The scenic trail, which runs 40 miles from Fort William to Fort Augustus, goes by villages with plenty of rolling hills and scenic overlooks along the way. However, if you are looking for more of a challenge, there are mountain biking trails that will get your adrenaline flowing too.
- Green Accommodations: Scotland has a variety of high-quality, eco-certified accommodation options including Glenuig Inn at the Sound of Arisaig on the west coast. This Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold Certified inn (which will be featured in another blog post) offers guided sea kayaking and hiking trips as well as vegetarian / vegan / non-dairy / nut-free dining options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, it was the attention to energy-efficient upgrades and the use of renewable resources toward the aim of doing better for the environment as well as for the bottom line that was intriguing – even to Prince Albert of Monaco who had visited Glenuig Inn just 10 days earlier specifically to find out more about the inn’s sustainable operations.
With its excellent train systems, walking and biking trails, wildlife, natural wonders, comfortable accommodations, locally-sourced dining options and of course historic sites, we are very excited at the prospect of offering new trips to Scotland.
Photo credit: Group Hydroplane Photo and Highlands Aerial Photo by Stefan Krantz