Updated: Aug 22, 2019
For years I have longed to visit Scotland. Ironically I know a lot about this amazing country thanks to amazing travel partners and my Scottish roots, but there is nothing like experiencing a destination and culture first hand. I created an itinerary that was perfect for me and my family – full of Harry Potter sites (including the Jacobite Train), our share of time in local pubs trying the local fare and soaking in the breathtaking vistas of the countryside
We started our journey at the “wee” Inverness Airport and quickly passed through customs (ours was the only plane on the 2 runways). With regular flights from Amsterdam (AMS), it’s incredibly accessible and efficient. We were met by a cheery driver who took us on a scenic drive past charming Inverness to our historic hotel, Culloden House. We were able to stay in a room just next to where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed when he was preparing for the Battle of Culloden in 1746. I love when my experiences collide with history! We appreciated the local Scottish touches and were piped in to dinner by a bagpiper. A perfect start to our vacation!
Cawdor Castle was a favorite and is a must see while staying in Inverness. Immaculately maintained by the Campbell family, the Dowager Countess Cawdor still lives in the castle. Filled with beautiful period furnishings, you really get a sense for what life was like living in a busy castle back in the 17th and 18th centuries. In addition to the perfectly manicured gardens (and maze), there is a seldom visited grove of trees behind the castle along Cawdor Burn (river) where you will find an elaborately carved bench next to an enormous Redwood tree - if you know where to look.
The history buff will not want to miss Culloden Visitor’s Center and Battlefield. In addition to the collection of authentic armor and weapons, there are interactive reenactments on site and a jarring short film (about 10 minutes) projected onto 4 different walls that immerses you in what the actual battle may have been like (The English Army on one side with the Jacobites on the opposite with spectators). The actual battle lasted a mere 40 minutes. However, the many clan stones that dot the field are somber reminders of the brutal battle that took place here.
When I think of Scotland, I think of the history, the castles, the beautiful and dramatic scenery, but also of life in the countryside. Visiting smaller towns like Inverness, Malaig and Balloch have an authenticity you can’t get by just visiting bustling Edinburgh or Glasgow. I thoroughly enjoyed my time doing “country pursuits.” It felt thoroughly Scottish to try archery, country walks in a pair of wellies and who could pass up a chance to play a round of golf? The weather was ever changing from drizzle to sun to wind, back to drizzle and then clear blue skies. Ending a round with a custom gin cocktail in the clubhouse bar was all part of the experience.
Gleneagles is a glorious playground of outdoor activities also including horseback riding, off road driving, falconry, ferret racing and fly fishing. If that isn’t enough, there are three pools, a fabulous spa and a brand new magnificent (and secured) play are for kids.
If movies and television are your thing, there are tours (or stops along other tours) for the Outlander, Rob Roy, Harry Potter, James Bond, Braveheart and The Crown fan. The Highlands provide a dramatic backdrop. One of the prettiest spots our Discover Scotland tour visited (with kilted guide Callum) was at the Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Center. There is a short hike up to a great viewing spot of both the Glenfinnan Viaduct and of Loch Shiel. You can almost feel the magic. If you haven’t seen the HBO show Succession, you may want to get through Season 1 as Season 2, which was partly shot at Gleneagles.
Experiencing the local culture through food and drink like eating Haggis flavored potato crisps (I can’t really recommend it), small batch whiskey or gin (Laphroaig or Hendrick’s is recommended) is one of my favorite ways to immerse myself and learn more about the country I’m visiting. My new favorite local pub dish I can now make at home – Carrot and Coriander Soup with toast, reminds me of good times shared over a meal and visiting with some locals or other fellow travelers. I’ll even share the recipe (see below)!
To complete our magical journey, we ended our trip with a visit to Warner Brothers Studio London (also known as Leavesden Studios). The studio is filled with thousands of costumes (including Harry’s first robes), props (such as Hagrid’s motorbike and Prof. Lupin’s animated trunk) and full-sized sets (the entire interior of Gringotts Bank, Dumbledore’s office and more) that were used in the filming. There are even interactive displays. The train used in the filming is there too and is a sister train to the one we got to ride in Scotland from Malaig to Fort William and across the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Let’s just say I learned a lot including some new skills that were caught on film.
Want to learn more about Liz’s trip to Scotland or how you can venture to this beautiful country? Email her at LizM@PiqueTravel.com.
Carrot and Coriander Soup Recipe
1.2 pounds (.5 kg) carrots, peeled and diced
1 small onion or the white of 2 leeks, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp coriander seeds, tasted and ground up (or 2 tsp ground coriander)
A good splash of olive oil
A little nugget of butter
2.5 cups (.6 liters) of chicken or vegetable stick
A handful of fresh coriander leaves if you can find some (or more ground coriander)
A swirl of crème fraiche (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pop a large saucepan on the hob (stove) over medium heat. Add olive oil, butter, carrots, onion, garlic and coriander.
Mix. Cover and cook until they start to soften. Add the sock, season and let it bubble up.
Turn the heat down. Simmer, partially covered, for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are quite tender.
Cool a little then whiz it up until smooth. You can use a blender (better) or immersion blender. Press through a sieve for extra smooth soup. Pop the pureed soup back in the pan if using a regular blender. Fold in the fresh coriander leaves. Add a little crème fraiche. Simmer until warmed through.
Adjust seasoning to taste and serve warm with an added swirl of crème fraiche and some toast on the side