Highland Highs

With a Potterhead daughter and a husband who loves golf and single malts, a driving holiday in Scotland was a natural choice, says Somini Sen Dua

  • Published 29.10.17
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The ruins of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

Sanjiv and I had been toying with the idea of a driving holiday for sometime — a holiday with no agenda, no fixed routes, and no rules. And we unanimously settled for Scotland.

After a customary halt in London where we met old friends and had an exotic Peruvian meal at Coya, we were off to Edinburgh. Sorry to disappoint all my London friends and family, but I would rate Edinburgh much higher on my list as a city than London.

EDINBURGH SIGHTS

The city has two distinct sections, the old and the new, and a set of the most warm and friendly people reside there. The old city was built around 600 AD and, like any of its European counterparts, has its own charm. The Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare of Old Edinburgh and joins Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The former is steeped in history, situated on top of volcanic rocks with a magnificent view of the North Sea. The Anglo-Saxon architecture is witness to historic upheavals of the English and Scottish dynasties. This was home to the legendary Mary, Queen of Scots.

The most unique feature of Edinburgh is its underground city. Along the Royal Mile there is almost a parallel city under the ground. The one above was built on top of it due to space constraints. Every corner boasts of an “underground ghost trail”, a book trail, or a pub crawl. It is a pedestrian street with curio shops, liquor stores, cafes and boutiques on either side. The old-world charm does have a sombre look with frequent showers and chilly winds adding to the ambience.

Our trip to The Elephant House cafe is worth a mention as this was the birthplace of the Harry Potter novels. J.K. Rowling was a frequent visitor and started penning her first book here. Our Potter-maniac devoured some teacakes, but, much to her dismay, nothing “magical” happened.

Being quintessential foodies, we had to try Scottish street food with wine for dinner. We figured, like Bongs, the Scots love their potatoes. So, we gorged on baked potatoes stuffed with tuna mayo served with coleslaw on the side. 

Inverness Castle

ON A ROLL

Our driving holiday started the next day. The car was a near impeccable BMW 520d from Sixt that had done just 6,000 miles. The experience of receiving (and, later, returning) it was very quick and pleasant. It was spacious, comfortable to drive, and had a superb grip, even in the rain.

Britannia, the royal yacht, has been donated by Queen Elizabeth II and is now a floating museum docked in Leith. It gives a fascinating peek into the lives of the British royal family.

The ship has three tiers with a cosy tearoom which has been preserved and serves authentic English tea scones, cakes, and so on.

St. Andrews Golf Course

It was beautiful driving around Edinburgh and a visit to Calton Hill is a must. It’s a Unesco World Heritage site. The view is exquisite; one gets a full view of Edinburgh city.

We must also recommend a visit to Dynamic Earth, where they have an educational and entertaining way of teaching the history of life and evolution of planet earth. It’s a time-travelling spaceship that blasts you from the Big Bang to the glacial age. It is located in the Holyrood area beside, the Scottish Parliament. This is a unique modern building in the city that wears a sombre Potteresque look.

Edinburgh Castle

COUNTRY ROADS

Driving in Scotland was almost the same as in India as we drive on the same side of the road and people follow lanes and the traffic rules strictly. During the entire trip, where I drove for a week, I used the horn only three times.

After a relaxed three days in Edinburgh we finally hit the road to Inverness, but on the way we had to visit St. Andrews Golf Course, the Mecca of golf. Being a daughter, a wife and a mother of golfers, I know how important it was for the golfers to just touch the greens there.

St. Andrews is right on the sea coast and is extremely windy. The Old Links Course looked rather tempting, but we had no time to indulge and, of course, there was no prior booking. We continued our drive — promising to be back soon for a round of golf — through the Scottish Highlands to Inverness.

Inverness is a small, quaint, pretty city on the banks of the river Ness. It is the largest city of the Scottish Highlands. There are a number of art galleries here. It was an exceptionally bright day and the whole city had decided to sun themselves.

The drive from Inverness to Portree was a long one. We had the Loch Ness for company on the left and the forest on the right. For miles there was nothing except the misty twist on every bend that beckons the traveller in you to go a little further as if you are on an eternal quest, but do not know what you are really looking for.

It is the abundance of nature that keeps you going and reminds you that life is so worth it. The fabled Loch Ness monster does not exist, but the stillness of the water can still take the breath away.

The Isle of Skye is connected to the Scottish mainland by a bridge that seems to lead nowhere if there’s a fog

Our maps and the GPS indicated our next destination before we halted for lunch — Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. The stone fort dates back to god knows when and had been invaded and destroyed several times. Like most other castles of that area, it bore the signs of enmity of the English and Scots. On the banks of the loch we had an impromptu picnic after years. Tuna and ham sandwiches never tasted so yum!

For someone who thought romance was a thing of the past, I could hear myself humming Ei poth jodi na shesh hoy…. The Isle of Skye is connected to the Scottish mainland by a bridge. When it’s foggy, it almost feels like you are driving to nowhere over a vast water body. It reminded us of the drive to the Key West, US, when little Hiya used to be strapped into the seat.

The energy bars and crackers that we carried in our food bag came in very handy. The wind was very chilly so there was no way to keep the windows down. Portree being the capital of Skye is spectacular, with its numerous food stops, whisky boutiques and harbourside pubs.

The Inn On The Lake at Ullswater

TALISKER TRIP

Skye is home to a number of iconic single malt distilleries, Talisker being a leading one. We were taking the distillery tour at noon. Sanjiv couldn’t contain his excitement. Our guide explained the difference between smoky and peaty malts and, of course, we were treated to a much-awaited customary shot. Our holiday could not get more ideal! We actually followed our breakfast up with a shot of single malt!

A distinct feature of this area is the Fairy Pools. In this part of Scotland, water from the springs that flow down from the mountains form numerous lakes and glens. This crystal clear water also forms little pools or puddles everywhere. They are often surrounded by grazing sheep.

It was time to bid adieu to Scotland and head for our final destination. We were several bottles heavier with malts as well as Misty Isle Skye Gin, a must for your collection.

The Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye

WORDSWORTH COUNTRY

From childhood I had heard stories of the beauty of Lake District from my UK cousins. My sole aim was to visit Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home. Located northwest of London, it’s famous for being home to some of the greatest poets and authors, such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Grasmere, Windermere and Ullswater are three broad areas in the district. We had picked a boutique hotel again — The Inn On The Lake at the edge of Ullswater Lake. The serenity of nature, the innumerable shades of green and the freshness of the air made us feel like we were part of a picture postcard. Lake District too is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Dove Cottage is in Grasmere. We didn’t see the “daffodils” in summer, but saw the couch on which the poet would lie in his “pensive mood”.

I haven’t felt so elated in a long time. That tryst with history was something words cannot describe. The drive back to London was a challenge as the weather was treacherous and visibility on the highways M1 and M6 very poor. The possibility of skidding is very high and one has to keep to the speed limits constantly. Like all good things, this trip, too, had to come to an end. But we are definitely gearing up for more road trips.

Somini Sen Dua is a public relations professional

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