Wrap up warm, the North of Scotland is one of the coldest
countries in Europe (Edinburgh lies on the same latitude as
Moscow) and substantially colder than England (around 5C cooler).
Weather is extremely changeable in each area and even from
hour to hour, and frequently rainy, even in the summer. However,
as part of an island climate, the temperature is mild and
you can expect a pleasant summer average of 20C. May - September
are the warmest months to explore the great outdoors.
The culture is liberal and Edinburgh and Glasgow are funky,
fashionable modern cities. If you're planning on hiking in
the highlands bring sufficient walking boots, layers in the
autumn and winter and a good storm proof raincoat and water
proof trousers are a backpack must, even if it looks like
a sunny day. The traditional dress is tartan, a unique
chequered wool material which has around 2500 patterns representing
each clan (family), and is fashioned into caps, scarves, trousers
and most famously kilts - heavy knee length skirts
worn by both men and women. Highland dress is not worn everyday
but is popular at weddings, special festivals and worn by
some military regiments. Men wear their kilt with a sporran
(pouch) and notoriously nothing underneath! (not advised for
windy Highland hikes!) Tartan goods can be bought as souvenirs
in Edinburgh, but head north for better, more authentic bargains.
The currency is as the rest of Great Britain, the Sterling
Pound - although Britain is contemplating entering into
the Euro in the near future.
£1 = 1.5 euro
£1 = 1.6 US Dollars
Check with your local currency exchange bureau for up to
date conversion rates.
Edinburgh is a very expensive city to visit, however
further north bargains in food and lodging are to be found.
On the whole, alcohol and food costs are slightly cheaper
than England but more expensive than continental Europe. A
2 star hotel in Edinburgh will set up back around $80 a night,
a youth hostel in the highlands from around $15 a night for
a dormitory style bed. A pint (half litre) of local beer will
cost around $2 outside of the cities, and a hearty meal around
$5 - 7.
Money can easily be exchanged in the cities and towns and
cash machines for debit cards are readily available in towns
- but stock up in cash before you head to the rural villages
and outer Islands. Tipping at 10 - 15% is customary in most
restaurants, but check as in some places they already add
this to your bill.
Scots are not typically known for their culinary excellence,
although some fantastic foods are available here. Multicultural
cuisine from Thai, India, Chinese & American can be found
in the major cities. However, fresh seafood like mussels,
salmon & cod are great dishes to eat near the
lochs and coast. The Scots are one of the most unhealthy nations
in Europe, and they love the chip shop where everything is
deep fried - from cod to chips and even Mars Bars!
Savoury porridge (oats boiled with milk and salt) is
a typical hearty Scotch breakfast setting you up for the day
(although eaten with jam and sugar is generally more palatable).
A good cooked breakfast with bacon, egg, tomato, beans, mushroom
and black pudding (blood sausage) similar to those found in
England are top breakfast cuisine, with the Scots additions
of a tattie (potato scone). Kippers (smoked
herrings) are also traditional breakfast fayre as well as
oat cakes (savoury biscuits).
Scots are famed for their hearty soups like Scotch Broth
which contains barley, lentils and meat, and Cock-a-leekie,
a thick creamy chicken and leek soup. Haggis is the
national dish, sheep lungs, heart and liver boiled in a sheep's
stomach. It may not sound too tasty, but it is surprisingly
delicious - rich and spicy served with mashed potato, turnips
or just plain greasy chips! However, in the cities dieting
isn't completely out of the question, and healthy and veggie
options do exist. The best meals are to be had in traditional
style country pubs where many top Michelin chefs work.
The early Scots derived from the race of Celts - a
tribal group who settled in Scotland and Ireland. A fiery
race, their folklore is legendary and the spirit of the Celts
has definitely rubbed off on the people of Scotland. Due to
their chequered history with war and independence with England,
some Scots can be somewhat aggressive in their attitude to
the English. Call them 'Brits' at your peril! With only 5
million people, 1/11 of the population of England in an area
half its size, it's easy to escape everyone in parts of Scotland.
The big cities are fairly multicultural with Chinese, Black
and Asian areas but further north it's pretty much pure breed
Scots. Scotsmen are often stereotyped as mean drunks eager
to get into a fight - although they love their drink, most
Scots you meet in pubs and bars you'll find to be friendly,
humorous and good-natured.
The national language is English, although you may
be confused into thinking you've entered a foreign country
as the regional accent is very strong, especially in Glasgow,
and language derived from Celtic has created its own variant
on English. Expression like "Ye Ken?" (You Know),
or "Fit Like?" (How are You?), and "Ay"
(Yes), and the confusing use of dinner to mean lunch ensures
that you're sure to be thoroughly confused!
Scottish Gaelic is still spoken by around 70,000 people
in the Highlands and Hebridean Islands and also by immigrants
in Nova Scotia (Canada). Gaelic TV, radio and newspapers can
be found, upholding the traditional language.
Edinburgh is about 4 ½ hours by train from London
and easily accessed, with frequent and comfortable services
although expensive ($150 US return) if you buy your ticket
at the station. Deals are to be had if you are able to book
your ticket 1 -2 weeks in advance which can be done online
or by phone. Car hire is probably the safest way to
get around the Highlands, and roads are good quality. It is
also possible to cycle and you can bring your bike
on the train up to Fort William or Inverness, the start of
the glorious Highlands. Scotland itself is served with great
rail links, which are expensive when bought individually but
a Scotland Travelpass is a good investment to be bought in
Edinburgh or Glasgow if you're planning to do a lot of travelling.
Skiing is starting to flourish in the Highlands around
Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain near Fort William.
Surfing, freezing cold but fun, is also enjoyed on
the North Coast. However, hiking or 'bagging' as the
Scots call it, is Scotland's main tourist leisure activity
- with legendary hikes including the Southern Upland Way,
the Fife Coastal Path and the Speyside Way plus
numerous inland tracks. Climbing Ben Nevis is a must experience
for serious mountaineers.
Go to Scotland for the boozing! As well as producing fine
whiskies (known also as Scotch)
And great ales, unlike the 11pm curfew of the English, Scotland
has European style licensing laws allowing you to go late
night drinking. Edinburgh and Glasgow have great nightlife
scenes for music, clubbing and theatre. Football culture
is big, on the pitch and the pub, and the rivalry between
Glasgow Celtic and Rangers is fierce.
Visas rules are the same as England, no visa is needed for
EU citizens, 6 month travel visas are readily available for
Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian citizens. Check
with your local British embassy for details.
Scotland is a fantastically safe and healthy place to visit.
The tap water is fresh and drinkable, the air good quality
and there are virtually no contagious diseases. Food and Mouth
disease has been a problem during 2001, however this cannot
be contracted to humans so should not restrict your movements.