I took up a challenge - to educate three Kiwis in the basic history, food and cultural transformation of the Scottish Highlands. All on a budget!
My mission - which I chose to accept - was to show three Kiwi friends the Scottish Highlands, on a budget and in just three days. With such a short timescale I had to prioritise the aspects of Scottish culture to highlight. The choice was relatively easy: deep fried food, Nessie and the transition from highland culture at the battle at Culloden to modern day Highland Games.
The journey begins
Having booked cheap easyJet flights to Aberdeen, we then rented a car and started the three hour journey to Drumnadrochit, a village which hosts many of the tourist hotels and hostels on the banks of Loch Ness.
We stopped off in a quaint little town called Barry for the first culinary adventure of the trip: deep fried (yes, deep fried) pizza, deep fried haggis, chips and of course a can of Iron-Bru each. Objective one of the trip had been completed with efficiency. Feeling a little more obese than my guests, or I felt comfortable with, we continued the drive to Drumnadrochit.
Objective two – Nessie
Drumnadrochit is, for the large-part, simply a tourist hub for visitors to Loch Ness. It hosts the Loch Ness Visitor Centre, numerous tourist shops selling cuddly Nessies (see photo) and tourist companies focused on boat tours of the Loch. There are also multiple hotels and cheap hostels for tourists to stay in.
I chose the Loch Ness Backpackers as our home due to its relatively low price (at only £16 each per night). We managed to book a four-bed room tucked just out of the way of the living room. The rooms were clean and very warm, an important thing to note for a weekend in Scotland! The highlight of the stay at the Loch Ness Backpackers was the barbeque and open fire that were set up in the backyard for a visiting tour group but we soon made ourselves at home.
We also took a tour of Loch Ness with a local tour company, which was a fantastic way to put in to perspective the real size of the Loch and the history behind the famous Nessie tales. We even managed to get a local to confess about his sighting of the famous beast.
Objective three – Highland culture (old)
We then drove up to Culloden to see the newly built visitor centre at the site. At £10 per person entry, we chose to walk around the site (which is free to enter) and not to go in to the visitor centre. However, anyone I have met since who has been in the centre has raved about it. Visiting the site was especially moving for myself, as my Clan, Clan Chattan, fought in the battle of Culloden. The design of the site was simple and respectful, with just enough information. Definitely worth a wander round if you are in the area. The site is around 20 minutes' drive from Inverness, on the opposite side of Loch Ness from Drumnadrochit.
Objective three – Highland culture (to new)
After a night next to the banks of Loch Ness we made the journey to Blair Atholl in Perthshire, a beautiful town that hosts the first Highland Games of the season in its castle (www.blair-castle.co.uk). The Duke of Blair Atholl also has the only remaining private army in the United Kingdom.
The Highland Games had all the key ingredients of a day out in Scotland: caber-tossing, tug ‘o’ war, highland dancing and shot put. There were also an abundance of food stalls with local cuisine such as haggis, shortbread, stovies (a traditional dish to use up the leftovers from Sunday lunch - http://www.scottishrecipes.co.uk/stovies.htm) and lots of sweets! Polish residents of the local area managed to win all the main prizes at the games. This area in Scotland has welcomed many residents from Eastern Europe and the loud cheers for them by one and all as they tossed the caber higher than the Scots really signalled a new cultural norm in the Highlands, one of integration and acceptance.
From Blair Atholl it is a very short and picturesque drive to Pitlochry where we would rest our heads for the night.
The Pitlochry Youth Hostel is in the middle of the bustling high-street of Pitlochry. Pitlochry is a small town, with Ben Vrackie looming in the background and the River Tummel at its base. It is connected to Glasgow and Edinburgh by the main roads in Scotland which pass Pitlochry on their way to Inverness and Aberdeen. As such, it’s a busy town, populated with walking shops and tearooms fit for any weary traveller.
The Pitlochry Youth Hostel is a comfortable hostel and has a real fun and sociable feel to it. The hostel has a partnership with the neighbouring pub, which means cheap deals as a resident! There was also a large games room and social area which proved fantastic for meeting other people travelling.
On the outskirts of Pitlochry is Scotland’s smallest Distillery, Edradour, which produces a single Highland malt whisky (http://www.edradour.co.uk/). The free tour of the distillery is fantastic, the guide we met enthusiastic and the shop well stocked. For those that like to drink while travelling there is also a free tour of the close-by Moulin Brewery. The Brewery produce is sold on tap at the neighbouring Moulin Inn (www.moulininn.co.uk), which serves fantastic food, a big recommendation from me!
Shortly after an alcohol themed morning, myself and the three Kiwis started our journey back to Aberdeen – with all objectives completed - where we would fly back to London.