Highlands and lowlands of Scotland

Trip Start Jun 01, 2002
Trip End Sep 11, 2007

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Monday, August 4, 2003

Hello all

Well here I am - back in London town once again, new job confirmed and finally the bank account is working itself into the black and trying to rid it's shade of red (though that will take a while).. Thought I would use this opportunity to talk to you about my latest trip... where too I hear you asking! Well this time we are off to Scotland. The other good thing is I have finally have had my photos developed of Canada/Spain/Amsterdam and have placed a selection on the previous pages. So take the time to remember with me about the adventures we have experienced together (well you have read)...... but first


"You can't take away my Freeeeedddooooom" - yep when I think Scotland, I think blue paint on faces, kilts with no underwear and Mel Gibson. So when my agency told me that the starting date for new contract would be starting in 1.5 weeks, I had to make some tough decisions.

1. Do I continue to enjoy my London routine of getting up at 11am, watching some crap TV, heading off to Hyde Park to pretend I am at the beach by lying on a towel with no shirt, soaking up the sun. Meeting friends for lunch and then heading out for drinks in the afternoon to end up a bit on the way side and then go to bed and eventually fall asleep at 3am....


2. Get off my arse and put another travelling notch in my belt.

Option 2 was the most appealing and after a few phone calls here and there, I had organised myself a 1st class train ticket to Edinburgh and an organised tour.. "What!!" I hear you scream in shock - is this the same person who says that "organised tours" take the independence out of travel, that "organised tours" do not allow you the freedom of independence. Well yes it is the same person but moving from my current state of mind for this trip, I wanted a trip that would met my extraordinary level of requirements.... the requirement of someone saying "Justin - I think you should take a photo of that!"

Yes, I wanted laziness, I wanted a trip that was no thinking, a trip that I did not have to consider, accommodation, places to visit, things to eat. The only decisions I wanted was "Do I drink Lager or Ale Beer?"

So with a week in Scotland planned, the first part was to get to Edinburgh. Boarding the train from Kings Cross, I entered the 1st class compartment (it was cheaper then economy, surprisingly). Now I have not travelled 1st class to much in the past - well there was the time in Egypt but I think the Western world would have considered it 345th Class, but I was expecting something nice, something special travelling 1st class on the "Flying Scotsman."

Picking up the brochure as I entered the carriage, I read with glee the list of freebies for 1st class passengers.
- Extra leg room
- Free Tea, Coffee and Biscuits.

Yep that was it!

No "Greek goddesses, dropping ripe grapes into my mouth" or "private club gym and sauna" just coffee and biscuits, coffee without real milk mind you! For those who have invested money into the biscuit company that supplies biscuits to the train group for Scotland, you will be receiving a very positive return on investment this quarter.

4 hours on the train and arriving into Edinburgh, with the castle sitting at the top of the city, it makes a very beautiful looking city. With friends who have lived there before trying to explain the castle thing, it really did not make sense until you see it for yourself - similar to those 3D picture things you have to stare at until you can see "the statue of liberty" or your until your eyes begin to bleed.... just does not make sense, until you see it. Really picturesque place.

Check into the "Castle Rock" hostel and secure my bed in a hostel room of 30 - yes 30. With a day to kill before I joined the tour I wanted to enjoy the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. So I walk and wonder and walk and wonder. From one souvenir shop to another one, one tartan factory to another, from one whisky seller... well did not make another one. Before you know it I have worked my way down to the bottom of the mile and see a sign that tells me that I can walk to the top of Arthurs Seat for some breath taking views. Why the hell not.

Note: It is my recommendation that before attempting a 2-3 hour walk up through mountain valleys, that one actually takes more than 125ml of water. After exhausting myself for a couple of hours I return to my favourite past time - sitting in a park in the sun and sleeping.

Call me paranoid, but I think I have a stalker following me. Yes, each time I check into a hostel, there is a guy usually in his mid twenties, normal looking - usually disguised as a backpacker and ends up in the same room as me. That I am not too worried about, but as soon as his head hits the pillow he takes a new form as "The Incredible Snorer", he does not turn green (well would be blue if I had my way) but he does an amazing job at ensuring no one else gets any sleep. I am sure he has followed me from Joburg, to Cairo and even in Ireland. Ahh the earplugs!

Back on track, next day the tour will begin. Like most gatherings of strangers, there is limited conversation until everyone gets comfortable. Of course this was the case when we worked out who was on our trip and who our guide was. Ahh the guide - take one skinny white, Scotsman. Place a cloth of tartan around the lower body and call it a kilt and then put behind him behind a steering wheel and there you have Tim McSkills Spoonfoot.

Now I could use this journal to tell you all about the funny bits on the trip - some painless than others, but they would not make sense to anyone except the 20 odd people of the trip and still yet they may not make sense of it. But what I will tell you is that Scotland is one of the most stunning countries I have visited in my brief international travelling career.

From Edinburgh we headed north to our final destination for day 1 of Inverness. Along the way stopping at various historic makings including the Callum Battlefield where our guide Tim, gave a exhausted history lesson of Scotland and the relevance of the battle field - which mind you is really just a paddock with two flags at each end (but don't tell the Scottish that).

If by the chance you end up in Inverness on Monday and Tuesday night (as you do), head down to the Blackfriars pub or better known as the Blackfriars Entertainment Centre. Why I hear you asking? Because the food is not too bad, the beer is cold and they have traditional Scottish dancing on Monday night and open mike night on the Tuesday. I will say no more.

From Inverness we spent a day "cruising" around the loch of Lochness. They say that there is a monster in there, but to be honest, if I was a monster I would find better places to live, between you and me the water does not really look appealing. A drive around the loch and hearing of stories about who has seen the monster and of course no trip is completed until a visit to a tacky souvenir shop to purchase lochness monster merchandise.

With the weather absolutely stunning, we headed North-West towards the "Isle Of Skye" when the opportunity arose to spend a couple of hours on the beach (yes the words beach and Scotland do belong in the same sentence - to my surprise). A unanimous decision of playing a game of beach soccer/football was decided and before you could say "David Beckham watch out, here I come" the group split in two even teams and day packs marked the goals. Game on!

Lets just put it this way we did not really threaten Man United, actually we really did not threaten the Dorris Beach under 12's. But saying that I did take an incredible "goalie" save, diving to my right, arching my back like a true athletic professional and all in glorious slow machine fashion - the only problem was, I was about 10 ft away from the goals and it was handball/offside/red card (something about those rules) but hey ... what is a man to do.

After removing the bus from the sand, we arrived at the Isle of Skye a nice 2 hours behind some sort of schedule. With a group cooking session agreed on, I offered to partake in the creation of "jay" garlic bread. Lets put it this way, if the Isle of Skye had a vampire problem, they no longer do. And after 3 weeks being back, the smell of garlic is slowly coming off my hands ;-).

The next day or so involved some great scenic walks - what the Scottish classify as "wee" walks, actually means a long way. With a slight mist drizzling down, made a very pleasant walking temperature. More historic sites with more exhausted Scottish History from our guide! The the big day came, yes William Wallace aka Mel Gibson. We arrived at the memorial just before sunset and before climbing the 200 metre path to the monument, we acknowledged the worst statue ever created. Yes, for the Oscar winning performance of yelling "FREEDOM" as his testicles were crushed some smart person decided to make a stone statue of Mel, which looks nothing like Mel in Bravehart. In fact it looks like.... not really sure to be honest.

After hassling some poor German tourists to take photos on every single persons camera (have we not heard of digital people) we are told the story of William Wallace. Now I could sit here and tell you all about it but I won't - I will just say that Hollywood got on the creative side a little - but who cares it was a good movie.

The final drive towards Edinburgh, rang home the fact that the trip was over. In 5 days I was amazed how quickly the group had moulded (probably to do with my own amazing social skills - or it could have been the beer!!). All in all it was a great trip for many factors, the people, the guide and also learning about the amazing history of Scotland. But all in all, it makes you appreciate Australia more and more each day you are away and I do laugh when the people that I travel with and or meet in my way ask me "What are you doing here, when you could be in Australia!" - simply I can tell them that I can go to Australia when ever I want - well except if they forget how to fly planes!

Back in Edinburgh and brief goodbyes and promises to catch up (which believe it or not is happening next month) and to the hostel to have a quick shower before heading out for final beers.

Next morning a reasonably early train and again I arrive into first class once again - is that Greek Goddess with a bunch of grapes in her hand I see before my very own eyes???..... no it is a man with Biscuits.... shit!

Thanks for reading....

P.S Don't forget to look back at the previous entries (New York, Amsterdam, Canada and Spain) and have a look at the photos and remember with me to ups and downs of my last travels..... ahhhh

P.S.S - Scotland Photos will come soon.
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