Top 10 Sights in Scotland

Did you know that in 2017 Scotland was voted the most beautiful country according to Rough Guides?

While it’s no secret that I lived in Glasgow to complete my postgraduate studies  – Scotland quickly became ‘a home away from home.’ During my year as an expat, I was fortunate to explore much of this country. I couldn’t resist falling in love with it’s dramatic landscapes, moody weather, complex history, endearing people, and especially, the late sun in the summer evenings.

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  1. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle – Both sites are considered to be in Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations. Parts of the ruined albeit impressive castle date back to the 1200s. Urquhart’s present condition reflects the turmoil it faced during the Wars of Independence. It’s easy to spend a few hours exploring the castle, and it’s surrounding area.
  2. Isle of Skye – I’ve visited Skye twice now. Once onboard a tour bus and again with a rental car. If you can – opt for the rental car. Every time I made the winding journey through the highlands, I made a pitstop at Glen Coe. While at Skye, I was able to see the town of Portree, the Fairy Pools, the Storr, Dunvegan Castle, and Caisteal Maol.28643150_10156771769248797_59557975_o
  3. St Andrews – When I day-tripped this coastal city, it was a rare summer day. While I was at St. Andrews’ Castle, I went in the medieval underground mine and 28722110_10156771747908797_1203095003_ncountermine. At 5’1″, I felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable in these mines, but I’m glad I saw such a rare site. Beside the castle is a coastal path, and also the gothicCathedral nestled within a gravesite. I made a quick stop at the University and also the ‘Old Course’. There are some places that one immediately feels a connection to, and this place did it for me. Upon leaving, I felt some regret at not doing my postgraduate studies at St. Andrews University, but Glasgow was a great experience.28536774_10156771769303797_1587794413_n
  4. Edinburgh – the free art museums, Old Town, Princess Street (and its gardens) with a view of Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, and Calton Hill/National Monument. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, don’t forget to go to enjoy a coffee from the Elephant Cafe, and check out the graveyard that inspired J.K. Rowling. If you can, go to the annual Fringe Fest during August to experience the wonder of the Military Tattoo. The military show is complete with light displays awash all over the castle and a firework show. If not, try to visit the Christmas Market from November to early January.
  5. Glasgow – While I studied at the University of Glasgow, I adored it’s campus and location in the West End. The Main Building was nearly used for Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter movies, and more recently, it was used to film scenes in Outlander’s third season. The West End’s atmosphere is encapsulated by boutique shops, quaint pubs, fairy lights overhanging Ashton Lane’s cobblestone streets, Kelvingrove Park and Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. Much of Glasgow is comprised of sandstone and Victorian architecture, and the shopping in City Centre.28535115_10156771733518797_1464088437_n
  6. Stirling Castle – I spent half a day with my friends touring this stunning castle, which you can read about here. One of my favorite parts was walking along the castle’s wall and enjoying the views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. The castle offers interactive games, models of the castle, costumes, informative exhibits, movies, and actors.
  7. Isle of Arran – Since I’m passionate about Archaeology and Art History, I felt compelled to visit this Neolithic site. Before the standing stones, the site originally had wooden structures and was used for sacred rituals. On a rushed excursion via train and ferry, I visited the Machrie Moore Stone Circles with a best friend. You can read about our crazy adventure in a previous post.28642925_10156771733108797_1203021121_o
  8. Loch Lomond (& the Trossachs National Park) – The first time I ever saw Loch Lomond was from  a small Scottish village called Luss. The area around Loch Lomond promises various hiking trails, but you can also take a boat ride. Loch Lomond is not far from Glasgow and it’s easily accessible by ScotRail.
  9. Oban – a quaint fishing village with many shops and harbor views. Enjoy a tour and drink at their infamous  Distillery.
  10. Jacobite Steam Train – it’s nearly an all day activity, but it’s a leisure one! It deposits you at Mallaig for a few hours, which provides you enough time to enjoy a coffee or a late lunch, and explore the tiny town. Onboard the train you’re able to buy snacks and various Harry Potter fan items. While riding the train, make sure you’re aware of  witnessing the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the island where Dumbledore died. Tickets for purchase are available here.28537598_10156771733798797_1428303766_n

Machrie Moor Stones at Isle of Arran

On the 5th of March, I wanted to get out of the fine city of Glasgow, and since I enjoy the coastline thats the direction I wanted to head towards. As I grew up on the coastline back home in the states, I really miss not being able to see the beach from my house. On a random Friday, I took an hour long train ride down to Androssan Harbor, coupled with an hour long ferry ride, which reminded me of the ferries that frequent Long Island.

9573_10154542208753797_7140773807402476575_nThe Isle is enormous – and boasts itself as a ‘miniature Scotland’ – I can confirm. The snow was a recent touch, as some of the locals excitedly told me.

The northern part of the isle, includes some of the highlands. There are caves, various golf courses, waterfalls, bike paths, seals, hiking trails, and Neolithic monuments. The island even has seals, except we didn’t find any during our brief time on the isle. Since I really wanted to see the Machrie Moor Standing Stones, which is located on the far West side of the Isle, I took another bus ride. However this one last just short of an hour. Since the weather was so decent,  I was tricked and wore Converse. Never wear Converse when doing a hike with questionable Scottish weather – truly a rookie mistake.

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The bus deposited us off at a carpark, in front of a farmer’s field with a pathway caked with mud and sheep bits…. During our trek of approximately 30 minutes, we experienced a hailstorm, rainy downpour, and angry gusts. We had our packs with us, and I did use my (unreliable Primark) umbrella for brief stints of protection when it would cooperate against the wind. My converse were no longer black, but encrusted brown and sopping wet by the time we reached the stones in the gapping countryside. My toes were numb, and I could merely feel my heels.

It was worth it – but I’ve never been so fatigued from a 2 mile walk. I’m contributing it to the weather. There are various series of short and tall standing stones peppered throughout the fields. fs

By the time we returned to the bus stop we waited patiently for a half hour and noticed it past due. We were lucky to flag down an upcoming bus. Although the bus driver finished his shift, he explained there were no more available busses for the day, but was kind enough to offer us a free lift back to the port. Otherwise we would have been stranded, since we were pressed for time to catch our ferry back to Androssan. Unlike our earlier bus route, this driver cut through the center of the isle, which has very narrow paths. During the majority of the ride, we spoke with the friendly driver and found out him and his wife are Glaswegian! When his wife retired, they moved to the isle since that’s their favorite holiday location. I could definitely understand why!

We made it back in time to catch the ferry. That night, we stayed in a small town called Largs through an inexpensive cottage listed on Airbnb.

I’m planning to explore more of Scotland’s Isles :).

Stirling Castle

I spent over 3 hours at Stirling Castle with a few of my friends in my MSc program. We were impressed by the sheer size of the castle. It offers a variety of interactive modules such as – dress up in medieval regalia, games, instruments, movies, and impersonators. The castle has been owned by a myriad of hands and this influence is demonstrated architecturally.

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The tapestries are impressive, and the unicorn decorations are a pleasant surprise.
If the weather is fair – go along the wall walk, a footpath that surrounds the parameter of the castle. The castle boasts many views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. Cue my Game of Thrones reference, I felt very ‘watcher of the wall’ esque.
In no way was I compensated to do this review. I paid full price of 14.50£, as there is no student discount. However! If you find yourself touring throughout Scotland’s heritage sites, I will say that joining their membership program would be the ideal way to visit.

A Field Trip to Archaeological Conflict Sites

As I’m planning to focus my dissertation on (cue the drum roll, please) HERITAGE my academic advisers in the International Relations program are allowing me to focus 3 of my 6 courses on art and material culture/heritage/archaeology.

I’m currently taking a Battlefield Archaeological course on Art and War, and was invited me to come on their field trip, with the stipulation of doing a brief presentation on Tantallon Castle (also, I frequently audit Methods and Concepts of Heritage on Wednesday mornings, because I’m me – a nerd).

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Last Thursday at 9:00, we drove to the Borders area of Scotland and England. It was around 2.5 hours to Braxton to visit Flodden Field, where an infamous Jacobite rebellion happened in 1513. Unfortunately, the area is largely populated by farmland and nearby homes. The trafficking of archaeological artifacts happens here, and at other battlefields by disrespectful individuals; check eBay. Since the early 90s, the community of Battlefield Archaeologists are striving to rectify legislative policies with organizations to secure these areas from trafficking, commercial farming, and urban development. After all, heritage is significant to preserve a site’s historical context because its symbolic of national and cultural integrity.

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Our second stop was Berwick-upon-Tweed to see the Elizabethan Fortification. It’s incredible because the fort actually manipulates the land, where it rises gently and drops dramatically. There was supposed to have been a protective moat around it for defensive-offensive purposes too.

Our finally stop was in North Berwick to admire the grandeur of Tantallon Castle. It dates back to the 14th century, sits promontory, and was first constructed of red sandstone, but post-second-siege by King James V, it was remodeled with green sandstone. I’ve heard Tantallon is off the beaten path for tourists, but it’s an impressive castle! If the weather is a agreeable and you can make the quick stop – you should! You’re can climb up winding stairways, and walk on external passageways to see the panoramic view of Oxroad Bay. Mind the wind. It was remarkable and I felt as though I were transported back to my childhood as if I were wildly playing on a playground. I was the last person out at closing time.12141563_10154191704788797_6652216059890848755_n

When I lived back in the states, I made a fuss about ‘how we have no history,’ or ‘our history is destroyed,’ or ‘everything here is too new’… however in my archaeology class, I’m learning how a lot of these heritage sites aren’t protected, except maybe from road and/or city planning. Many battlefield archaeologists in the UK are inspired by the United State’s initiative at preserving their own conflict sites, and are struggling to acquire similar regulations.

Oh, if you were wondering, my presentation went well. Thanks for asking!

Oban and Isle of Seil

12047030_10154138731588797_6115498423472897959_nThe harbor area of Oban is refreshing and quaint. Be sure to grab a take-away latte or fish and chips to bring to the port, and enjoy the mirror images of the boats reflect across harbor. We visited McCaig’s Tower to see a panoramic view of the port and city. In the picture above, you can see the Tower, it almost resembles the Colosseum.

11227389_10154138731633797_8662046784401993909_n Later in the afternoon, we traveled a short drive away to Easdale. When we arrived, we did a brief hike up the side of a hill, where we appreciated the sights of Isle of Seil and Easdale Island. The word, ethereal, echoed softly in the back of my mind.

12038408_10154138731863797_3525912034056209919_nI felt at peace staring out across the stark green landscape that juxtaposed the layers of snowy-slate gray sky and water. I wanted to imprint the serenity of that moment in my mind.

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Enjoying Edinburgh

11155134_10154138730358797_9146930183877229500_oWell, I’ve moved in to the wonderful city of Glasgow. I’m fairly settled in. Postgraduate classes at University of Glasgow are due to start next week – of course I’m excited and nervous. I’m starting afresh by studying for a Masters of Science in International Relations. It’s been a whole year since I graduated from my undergrad.

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During my first weekend here, I took a trip over to Edinburgh to see the capital city of Scotland. Anyone who knows me – knows I can’t stay in any place for too long. The views from Carlton Hill were truly incredibly.

I would love to come back and spend more time up there and possibly try my hand at sketching. I also need to hike up Arthur’s Seat.12046585_10154138730648797_8011355797670097103_n

We wandered through Princes Street Garden, marched past the Scott Monument, visited Edinburgh Castle, trekked down the road of Old Town. I absolutely loved the charming pastel facades.

What HP fan could possibly resist the opportunity to grab a coffee from the Elephant House?!

As an amateur fiction writer, I was hoping the heated espresso beans would instill some type of ungodly wisdom into me. We’ll see if it happens. Make sure to excuse yourself to the bathroom to read the words of previous visitors!
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