Scotland in Spring: Swallows, Flowers, Castles & More
In mid-April, the first Swallows returned to our home. We were expecting them as in a good spring they arrive in the third week of April but when they swooped down and chattered at us it was so good and made my day; now they and the others that follow will colonise our home in their mud nests and raise hopefully as many as 20 babies, which in mid-September will then fly the thousands of miles back to Africa for the winter!
We have had a very good Spring and the milder sunny weather has returned to Scotland; Edinburgh is already awash with foreign visitors in open topped buses and crowding the historic sites of interest.
Most visitors would naturally commence a visit to Scotland by arriving in Edinburgh by plane, train or car. It is a most delightful city with so much to intrigue and entrance. Edinburgh is not a big city and I think that is part of its magic; certainly as a teenager when I returned for tertiary education that was the feeling I experienced which made for a sense of security.
Moreover, because there are four universities and other colleges of education the city is alive with thousands of young people, many of them from overseas; indeed Scotland now has many thousands of foreign students studying at her various universities four of which are considered ‘ancient’, the oldest of which is St. Andrews on the coast of Fife together with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, but there are modern institutions that have been designated as new universities and these provide a plethora of courses for overseas students.
The Balmoral and The Waldorf Astoria Caledonian and The Sheraton Grand and others are luxury destinations and there are also good boutique hotels like Channings, The Howard and several others. Edinburgh is full of good B & Bs (homestays) which can suit many budgets.
Most tourists find the whisky centres of great interest and a visit to the distilleries in the Highlands & Islands can be very rewarding! Knitwear and designer wear for the cold can be found in lovely specialist shops and there are Harvey Nichols and Jenners as well as designer shops on the famous elegant George Street which are a delight. George Street has many restaurants and cafes; some of these are beautiful conversions from erstwhile bank properties.
In decades past Edinburgh had numerous grand bank buildings which are now mostly superfluous as so much business is now done through internet banking so they have become gracious restaurants that particularly at Christmas are decorated and give one a festive feel. Indian restaurants abound as do Thai and Chinese along with good budget priced French and Italian and Mexican. On good sunny days the wide streets like George Street have the café culture of sitting outside and huge areas are pedestrianised to help people relax.
In my opinion Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles’s Cathedral (where we were married), The Palace of Holyrood House, the Royal Mile which is the ancient street between those grand buildings, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh first established in 1620 which are truly stunning and the RBGE has an Arboretum at Dawyck close to where we live in Peeblesshire, plus Benmore Botanic Gardens in Argyll and a fourth Logan Botanic Gardens in Dumfries & Galloway.
There’s no shortage of castles in Scotland to explore btw. The New Town of Edinburgh (which is not new at all as it is over 250 years old, but just not as ancient as the Old Town!), Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat – an ancient extinct volcano – are some of the main attractions.
At Leith, which is the port for Edinburgh and had its own ancient history the Royal Yacht Britannia sits at anchor and is a worthwhile attraction and nearby there are many restaurants in which to eat and rest your weary feet.
Every year in July, HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh make a weeklong visit to the City and undertake engagements in Scotland. The Royal Family value dearly their country seat at Balmoral Castle which is personally owned by HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales has the nearby mansion of Birkhall.
He is a keen gardener and the castle grounds and the mansion both have lovely gardens which people visit when the Royal Family is not in residence. At the end of the famous three week long Edinburgh Festival (which takes place in August and early September) there is always the most stupendous firework display which is set off with the background of the castle. There’s also the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
On a fine dry night, it is nothing less than stunning accompanying grand classical music being played in Prince’s Street Gardens. The City’s streets are awash with pedestrians and there is always a good festive atmosphere. The fireworks display also takes place on New Year’s Eve and that is the Winter Festival which also lasts for three weeks over Christmas, but it could be very cold and may not be that attractive to some visitors for that reason! The Castle itself is fascinating and is now often used for grand events and government functions.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is always a wonderful event and usually booked out months ahead of the three weeks’ duration. Foreign armies and relevant bodies take delight in also participating in this annual and stirring event when the skirl of the pipe bands, the skills of the armed forces and others are shown to perfection against the backdrop of the amazing Edinburgh Castle and it ends with the evocative Lone Piper on the ramparts of the castle playing a lament – very special.
We live in the beautiful Scottish Borders which have gentle hills and valleys and famous rivers like the River Tweed running through – the Tweed is world famous for the salmon that are spawned and live and then leave the river and go to sea and return to spawn again and this river is the haunt of serious fishermen and women for both trout and salmon.
The hills are alive with sheep and birdlife, the fields full of young cattle and the air on a summer’s day is mellow with the sound of contented livestock and the curlew’s cry in the sky.
Peebles is a most attractive town to visit south of Edinburgh and it is an easy drive of 25 miles with many lovely little restaurants and coffee shops in which to assuage your hunger and rest your feet. Peebles has a nearby castle called Neidpath standing proudly right on the banks of the Tweed and the River Walk is a delight. At nearby Innerleithen Traquair House is a wonderful old mansion that is reputed to be the oldest inhabited country house in Scotland.
Traquair House in Peeblesshire
I can declare an interest in that over 40 years ago I used to rent the cottage that is now the very attractive 1745 tea room and it is full of interest and charm. Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, these are all fine Borders towns and worth a visit and one can see the ruined Abbeys that are so evocative of times past. Abbotsford is the historic house of the great Sir Walter Scott the 19th century writer who helped to create the romance and myths of Scotland and this fine old house is very close to Melrose which is famous for its rugby.
Another area of Scotland that we love particularly is Argyll and the area around Oban. That region is in the Highlands of Scotland but with wonderful coastline and sea lochs (lakes), and little villages and hills and valleys; there are superb historic gardens to visit with ancient castles and keeps and other heritage sites.
In spring time the gracious gardens are full of bluebells, yellow gorse, wild garlic, rhododendrons, azaleas and other stunning plants like the blue poppy meconopsis.
Argyll’s Gardens Trail is something I recommend from beginning of May onwards. The West Coast is a sailor’s dream area and much loved by ‘yachties’ and the marine wildlife are abundant as are the birds.
The West Coast
From end of April to end of October Scotland is a wonderful country to visit, the early months show you her beauty in Spring which turns into Summer and then by late September the Autumn colours prevail and they can be truly stunning and rival Canada or the East Coast of America in their vivid array.
Further north from Oban there is yet more stunning country and the Western Isles which are easily accessible by ferries which ply to and fro across those waters. Ferry Tickets can be bought in a group to make it economical and indeed last year we went by ferry from Oban to Mull and then drove across to Iona which needs another tiny ferry ride.
The historic and beautiful tiny island of Iona has great Christian traditions and heritage and is really worth visiting. On a good day the sea around is an azure colour with the white sand, the yellow gorse bushes and bluebells in May – outstandingly beautiful. Tobermory is the colourful town in north Mull from which you can take a ferry to Ardnamurchan and then again it is wild and stunning Scotland with so few people.
The lack of people would be the great find I imagine for most visitors! Deer, seals, otters, and birdlife – these are in abundance for those who have patience and are quiet and respectful of wildlife. From Mallaig one takes a short ferry ride to the famous Isle of Skye. Yet again wonderful vistas open up with much to see and do. One can access the mainland by the Skye Bridge and visit Plockton which is enchanting heritage village and then drive down and visit the famous Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie – this could be the most photographed castle in all Scotland at the confluence of three lochs.
This must be the most romantic of Scotland’s castles and is beautifully presented and has a wonderful visitor centre as well. There are small hotels and guest houses and B & Bs in which to stay very comfortably mostly with their ensuite bedrooms (which I find essential) and a very good breakfast of your choice provided each morning.
Other places I strongly recommend include Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Aberfeldy, Inverness, Perth and the area around Loch Tay. Around Oban the most wonderful and huge loch (lake) is Loch Awe which we love and visit regularly, but Loch Tay is also very large and has lovely areas around it with interesting things to visit and enjoy. Loch Ness everyone has heard about and the mythical monster therein.
I have not even touched the Far North of Scotland which is now being sought as a bikers’ paradise with the magnificent North Coast 500 road, or indeed the East Coast, or the Kingdom of Fife with St. Andrews the original famous home of golf; but in one short article that cannot all be achieved adequately. As for Orkney and Shetland – magnificent islands, well that is another story!
Visitor Information: www.visitscotland.com or call 0845 22 55 121.
A warm welcome awaits you in Scotland and if you have been before let me say ‘Haste ye back!’
More photos can be found from this trip here.