THE PIPES ARE CALL­ING

RICH IN HIS­TORY, SCOT­LAND IS A VI­BRANT MIX OF CUL­TURE AND AWE­SOME LAND­MARKS AND LAND­SCAPES, AND ONE VIS­I­TOR WILL RE­TURN

Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - WORDS: MICHELLE GATELY

Just men­tion Scot­land and iconic im­ages spring to mind of bag­pipes and kilts, cas­tles and clan wars, high­land cows and bar­rels of whisky.

With the sound of the pipes swirling around and The Scotsman Ho­tel tow­er­ing above me, I took my first steps out of Waver­ley sta­tion into the heart of Ed­in­burgh.

It’s hard to de­scribe the im­me­di­ate sense of warmth you feel in the city (and not just be­cause a rare sunny day was help­ing my numb fin­gers thaw out).

Trav­el­ling up to Scot­land by rail is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to en­joy the scenic views coun­try Eng­land is renowned for.

The six-hour jour­ney seemed to fly with an ever-chang­ing view of mist-shrouded val­leys and lush rolling hills.

Waverly sta­tion is a di­vide be­tween the Scot­tish cap­i­tal’s Old Town, with the iconic Royal Mile and me­dieval street plan, and

New Town, with its neo-clas­si­cal and Ge­or­gian ar­chi­tec­ture.

A bed and break­fast seemed the best way to en­joy Scot­tish hos­pi­tal­ity and Alba House, a Vic­to­rian-era home in Craig­mil­lar Park, was bud­get-friendly lux­ury.

The high ceil­ings and large sash win­dows over­look­ing the gar­den are a charm­ing nod to the past, while the sleek en­suite and com­fort­able dou­ble bed made me feel right at home.

Craig­mil­lar Park is peace­ful and quiet and just five min­utes from the city by bus.

If you’re lucky enough to en­joy a sunny day in Scot­land, don’t waste it indoors. As soon as I’d dropped my bags off, I was ready to tackle the city’s fa­mous Arthur’s Seat.

It is quite the hike, but with stone steps form­ing much of the path­way the climb is achiev­able in train­ers or every­day boots.

There are plenty of other smaller hik­ing op­tions in Holyrood Park for those who can’t brave the sum­mit. How­ever, the breath­tak­ing 360-de­gree views are worth every step (as are the fierce winds, which will blast you from every an­gle).

On a whim I de­cided a trip to Scot­land wouldn’t be com­plete with­out a visit to the high­lands, how­ever small, and booked a last-minute day trip with Rab­bie’s.

The help­ful Rab­bie’s staff found a tour that would give me ev­ery­thing I wanted in the high­lands: pic­turesque views, small vil­lages, and cas­tles.

Our small group set off bright and early the fol­low­ing morn­ing with our de­light­ful guide Shona. As city thinned out into mo­tor­way, Shona shared tales of Scot­tish myth and leg­end, in­clud­ing those made fa­mous in Brave­heart as we passed Stir­ling Cas­tle.

From a quick photo stop at The Kelpies, 30-me­tre-high horse head sculp­tures rep­re­sent­ing the myth­i­cal beasts said to have the strength and en­durance of 10 horses, the mo­tor­way gave way to wind­ing coun­try roads.

Doune Cas­tle is a chance to dis­cover an aban­doned me­dieval strong­hold with sur­pris­ing free­dom to ex­plore the tight spi­ral stair­ways lead­ing to hid­den cham­bers.

The in­trigue, bat­tles and plots I’d learned about in high school his­tory filled my mind as I walked through the cold stone rooms and peeked through the win­dows across a pic­ture-per­fect au­tumn land­scape.

It was only the start of au­tumn, but a cold blast from the north had dropped tem­per­a­tures to a chill­ing one de­gree in the high­lands. Be­ing a Queens­lan­der, I was very thank­ful for our cosy heated tour bus.

As we crossed the High­land Bound­ary Fault Line, rolling farm­land turned into woods and rugged moun­tains.

This land­scape is every bit as iconic as Scot­land’s cas­tles and an awe-in­spir­ing sight comes at every turn.

We stopped briefly to look over the calm wa­ters of Loch Awe at melan­choly Kilchurn Cas­tle, built amidst famed clan wars and left to go to ruin on a rocky penin­sula.

Then it was time to ex­plore the fish­ing vil­lage of In­ver­aray, perched on a sea loch and the per­fect place to en­joy freshly caught

seafood.

From this charm­ing vil­lage the tour took us through the steep wind­ing Ar­rochar Alps to the Rest and Be Thank­ful pass. It is truly a mesmerisin­g sight, wor­thy of the phrase in­scribed on a nearby com­mem­o­ra­tive stone by the sol­diers who built the orig­i­nal mil­i­tary road in 1753. As day­light faded we drove down to the “bon­nie, bon­nie banks” of Loch Lomond and walked through the quaint con­ser­va­tion vil­lage of Luss, where colour­ful flower gar­dens line thatched-roof cot­tages.

I ended my last night in Ed­in­burgh with a hag­gis pie on the way back to the BNB, but was not brave enough to try the famed Irnbru.

Sadly I didn’t see a hairy high­land cow on my short trip, but I did en­joy plenty of busk­ing bag­pipers and enough of this beau­ti­ful coun­try to know it will call me back.

THE IN­TRIGUE, BAT­TLES AND PLOTS I’D LEARNED ABOUT IN HIGH SCHOOL HIS­TORY FILLED MY MIND AS I WALKED THROUGH THE COLD STONE ROOMS AND PEEKED THROUGH THE WIN­DOWS ACROSS A PIC­TURE-PER­FECT AU­TUMN LAND­SCAPE.

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