For Castles, Head to Scotland

History, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom
Edinburgh Castle, 2010 trip

While England is well known as a hub for centuries of castles. And while it holds some of the finest examples of castle and manor architectural wonders, it lacks the density of castles that most visitors dream of, at least in modern visibility.

Since the pesky Normans invaded (1066, look it up) castle sprouted all over Britain and some 4,000 were in England at one point. However, time, and age, and people like Oliver Cromwell destroyed many of the finest castles Britain had. Today England has around 1,500 castles that are registered landmarks. Scotland has over 2,000 castle examples.

Scotland (30,090 sq mi), by comparison in land mass and distance to travel, is significantly smaller than England (50,301 sq mi). Scotland also has the benefit of some of the best castle examples being within a remarkably short drive or train from Edinburgh, Scotland. This reason alone is one of the many reasons why I have continued to return to Scotland for a taste of magic, history, and escapism. 

Scotland is a major location to film historical and fictional movies due to its plethora of castles. Movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Harry Potter Franchise, those which don’t tell particularly Scottish stories, are prime examples of the beauty of the region providing a great backdrop. 

Thus, dear fellow travelers, Scotland is a prime spot for pulling on your wellies and tromping through some highlands to see some great Castles! Here are some of my absolute favorites. 

Edinburgh Castle – You can’t visit Scotland and not stop at one of its main historical attractions. Not only is it the heart of the city, the entirety of it is surrounding by the stunning features of the city’s old town and views of the new town. The museums at the castle complex offer an unparalleled starting point into Scotland’s history. 

Edinburgh Castle, 2015

Stirling Castle – Stirling is a fantastic neighboring city of Edinburgh, and only around an hour away by train or car. The city also boasts its own castle, built over the end of the 15th and into the 17th century, and a shining example of early modern period tastes and designs. I love the layout of this castle as it has dedicated itself to being an example of 16th century life in Scotland. 


Doune Castle, 2010

Doune Castle – Just outside of Stirling is the city of Doune, and one of the better loved castles for movie locations. Doune Castle was originally known as the “Holy Grail Castle” where one could take a photo with coconuts and run around pretending they were horse hooves. In the last five years or so it has become best known for some lusty shots from Outlander. For history geeks, this castle also boasts some great restoration and it is set among some stellar hiking trails and views. 

Playing Monty Python, 2010

Eilean Donan – As the most photographed castle in Scotland this one has to make the list. However, to many peoples’ surprise, this castle was not built long long ago in a land far away. The castle isn’t even 100 years old and was built by some scenery and history loving architects and owners who chose to celebrate the locations heritage. The spot of Eilean Donan was a hot spot for groups until the 1700s when most of the 13th century castle was restored. 

Eilean Donan, 2015

DirletonCastle – Just a short trek from Edinburgh this greatcastle offers a lot of exploration and fun on one small location. If you’re upfor a game of hide and seek, this castle is the perfect one to get lost in andrevel in some history at. 

Tantallon Castle – If you love ocean backdrops then thesea swept cliffs by Tantallonmake a visit worthwhile. Important historically, this castle is one of thefinest examples of medieval design and castle living, providing not onlyamazing views, but rich educational opportunities. 

There are so many more to explore in Scotland, and more I have had theluxury of seeing. Where are your favorites? What do you want to see?

Happy Travels!

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10 Must Try Foods of Scotland

musings, Scotland, Travel

Scotland is known for greasy and sometimes odd concoctions, often the result of crafty people that used every, and I mean EVERY part of their food sources. Once you get past the initial, “what the….[insert expletive]” you are likely to enjoy the treats.

10. Deep Fried Mars Bars

Scotland is known for its love of the deep fryer, almost as well as the American South is. One of their better, and disgustingly wonderful treats is a deep fried Mars Candy Bar. Step one – buy a Mars bar, step two – batter the bar, step three – deep fry until its crispy outside and a gooey mess on the inside. It’s sinfully good.

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9. Irn Bru

Scotland is one of the only nations in the world where Coca Cola is not the most popular soda. Instead, they have their neon orange amalgamation, IRN BRU (pronounced URN BREW). To Americans, you will notice it tastes like liquid penicillin we got as children (I know!) to the rest of the world it’s something resembling bottled cotton candy.

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8. Scotch Eggs

This treat sounds weird, but it’s really a tasty appetizer. It’s a boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, then breaded. Then it’s baked or deep fried. It’s an appealing savory delight with an umami sensation.

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7. Neeps and Tatties

This sounds almost mystical, but it’s really just mashed potatoes and equally mushy turnips. Both are excellent when made right and nutritious. (see number 2 for the proper serving)

6. Scottish Salmon

Scotland has some of the most amazing Atlantic Salmon in the world. Their sustainable farm raising prevents over fishing, and a premium product. Commonly, (when found stateside) it’s smoked and served as a fantastic protein in fine cuisine. Try with some capers or cream cheese.

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5. A Full Scottish [Breakfast]

Brace yourself for this one. Rather fast for this one. Scottish Breakfasts, like most of the British Isles, is a practical feast, and possibly the only meal you’ll eat for the day. It often has several types of sausage (including blood sausage), beans, toast, eggs, mushrooms, sometimes porridge…. and up to the chef’s discretion some other treats. It’s commonly served with tea and sometimes oatmeal. If you can eat it all, props. ALSO, vegetarian versions are equally delectable and satisfying.

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4. Flapjacks

In the United States this is another loosely used term for pancakes. In Scotland it’s a granola oat-bar kind of thing. Almost like a cookie, these buttery treats are ideal for a snack with a cup of tea, or just as a great treat. They are divine when freshly made and sold.

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3. Shortbread

As one of Scotland’s better known treats, it’s important to try this treat when in Alba. Walker’s may corner the U.S. market, but many fine bakeries create and sell their own versions of the treat for visitors and locals alike.

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2. Haggis

Haggis has a bad reputation. But the reality is that it’s a very tasty national dish and one that is logical for nutrition and practicality concerns. The dish uses every part of an animal in a way so as to maximize flavor and necessity. While traditional haggis is not legal in the United States, trying it fresh and hot in Scotland is an important initiation right (the vegetarian version is also very good and is made of nuts, oats, mushrooms etc).

Keep Reading if you want to know what’s in the dish….or skip to 1.

Haggis is made by using a butchered sheep’s (or calf’s) stomach. Inside the stomach goes left over organ meat such as lungs, heart, liver, fat (suet) etc. then the rest of the space is filled with oats and seasoning (this is all cooked before hand). The stomach gets tied shut andΒ  then it is boiled and/or baked to perfection.

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1. Wee Dram of Scotch

No trip or palate journey through Scotland is complete without trying some of the national drink, SCOTCH. Most places cut the little bit of liquor with water, swish, and then allow the consumer to taste and play with it in the mouth before swallowing. Follow the professional’s recommendation and go slow. Scotch is for the flavor, not the buzz.

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platform 9 3/4

Hidden London, the city that you need to see

Travel, United Kingdom

London, as many great cities are, is full of your typical tourist spots, and one can spend plenty of time hitting museum after museum, and visiting royal sights.

Yet, there is a lot more to see in London, such as unique and vibrant culture in the pubs and waterways that are away from the tourist trail.

Such as the Dickens Inn at St. Katherine Docks. That is an old haunt of, you guessed it, Charles Dickens and in the area that so often found itself in his stories.Β 

Or haunt around Kings Cross and check out Platform 9 3/4! Along with the Harry Potter shop.

Even at the big tourist spots there are magical places that sometimes get missed. Such as the 13th century reconstructed palace at the Tower of London.

The reality of London is that wandering gets you to some neat places. Some cool shops, some exciting places, interesting people and unique sights. If you can, make a connection with a local, because they will always know a place or two worth exploring.

Happy Travels!

~Rebecca Lee Robinson