Celtic Voyage

Akhila Gudla visit to Scotland

Steeped in history, rich in heritage and teeming with culture – it’s not often that people appreciate the Celtic nation of Scotland for everything it offers. But once you’re there, you immediately understand why Scots are so passionate about their country and legacy. That’s exactly why Akhila Gudla was swept away when she landed on Scottish shores.
 
Calton Hills 
 
My heart was set on Scotland as I watched the climax of Skyfall unfold at the picturesque Rannoch Moor. Braveheart, though lacking in historical accuracy, was another epic movie shot there. As I finished work in London, I took a week off to explore Scotland on my own. An overnight train took me to Edinburgh, where I spent a day. Enchanting as it was with its age-old charm – every building has its own character – the trip would have been incomplete without a stroll along Royal Mile, Princes Street, Holyrood Palace, Scottish Parliament and of course Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the city skyline.
 
My favourite spot in the city was Calton Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just a short climb from Waverly Station. Set in the heart of the city, Calton Hills boasts panoramic views and an acropolis perched at the top. It was intended to be replica of the Parthenon in Athens, as a memorial to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars.
 
Glen Coe 
 
After spending the evening exchanging pictures with a travel journalist from Portugal and exploring the Christmas markets, I took a long trip the next morning. I had big skies, solitary landscapes, unending pastures, large lochs with peaty waters, glens and castles for company during a drive so mesmerising and beautiful that it intoxicates you.
 
As I drove along the West Highland Way through the Glen Coe, absorbing the imposing mountain views and the mighty Highland cows and sheep, it took just one conversation with the locals to become familiar with all the legends of the place – the longstanding rivalry between the Campbell and MacDonald clans, stories of Rob Roy Macgregor (who is nothing like Robin Hood), and other interesting bits from history about people like William Wallace.
 
Scotland 
 
Travelling in November did not present me the chance to hike Ben Navis, Britain’s highest peak, so instead I used my time to soak in the magical views of many a loch. I passed dozens of the 600-odd strewn across Scotland, so large in expanse and so still. All the while, I was eagerly awaiting the boat ride at Loch Ness, which I never imagined I’d visit when I read about the Loch Ness monster in school.
 
Loch Ness is said never to freeze, maintaining the same temperature of 4°C throughout the year. It contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, is around 10,000 years old, and was formed at the end of the last Great Ice Age. Speaking of water, it’s serious business in Scotland, with 90% of the UK’s inland surface water found there. I learnt from the guide that water worth £90 million is sold every year by Scotland to rest of the UK. Urquhart Castle, which juts onto the mainland close to the Loch, stands impressively with a tower house.
 
Dunnottar Castle 
 
Leaving behind Loch Ness (with no sight of Nessie), I continued on to Inverness and Aberdeen, where my best friend lives. After an evening at the local bingo club, we made our way to the original Glenfiddich distillery, first opened in 1887 and one of the few single-malt distilleries to remain entirely family-owned. No trip is Scotland is complete without a visit here, with a full tour of the facilities and operations, followed by tutored nosing and tasting sessions of their finest whiskies. Several more cases made their way into a gift bag!
 
After a brief visit to Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, I flew back to London and then, home. There are many words of praise that come to mind when I wish to describe the beauty of Scotland. At the very top of the list is ‘magical’.     – Akhila
 
Must-dos
• Irn-Bru is a local soft drink, often described as Scotland’s ‘other national beverage’ (after Scotch whisky). Personally, I thought it tasted a bit like cough syrup.
 
• Haggis is a savoury dish containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, spices and stock. Traditionally, it’s encased in the animal’s stomach lining and simmered for approximately three hours.
 
Scotland 
 
• The Hogwarts Express, which ferries students to the castle in the Harry Potter movies, uses most of the actual route of 41 miles between Fort William and Mallaig. You can take this journey in real life, though you won’t end up at King’s Cross in London, as it mysteriously does in the movies.
 
• A must-buy (apart from the Scotch miniatures collections) is the fruit curd spread. Passion fruit, lemon and raspberry are my picks.