National Holidays trip to Scotland

View of Ailsa Craig
View of Ailsa Craig

I was going to be at home for over a week – coming up for the Spice Girls concert, staying for a family meal – and I suggested to my mam that we go somewhere on holiday together. We opted for a cheap National Holidays deal, a trip to Scotland featuring Loch Lomond and the Ayrshire coast.

Moffat
Moffat town centre

We joined the coach at Sunderland; I was the youngest person there, but only by about 20 years, not 30. Our first proper stop (not counting the Houghton Hall garden centre near Carlisle) was Moffat, a former spa town near the Scottish border with a quaint high street, a tiny museum and a statue of a sheep overlooking the town centre.

Ayr
The town of Ayr

The next day featured trips to Girvan and Ayr. The best thing about Girvan, to be honest, was the rainbow ice cream cone which I joyfully Instagrammed. The weather wasn’t great and the local museum was shut. Ayr was bigger and had a Wetherspoons that used to be a pub (big plus) but we were too far away to visit the nearby Burns Cottage, which was a real missed opportunity.

Unicorn ice cream
Uni-cone

The third day featured a boat ride on Loch Lomond, but as I’d done this before and the weather was windy, I spent most of my time downstairs. My mam, who is much hardier than I am, stuck it out on the top deck almost till the end and appeared none the worse for it.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond

A trip to Glasgow followed, with a tour round the city followed by a guided tour of the Council Chambers in George Square and a visit to the Gallery of Modern Art to pass the time until the bus called for us again. Even though we’d visited Glasgow before I thought this was one of the best parts of the trip, as we still managed to find new things to do.

Glasgow council chambers
The council chambers in Glasgow

We stayed in the Adamton Country Hall Hotel near Prestwick Airport. The hotel looks pretty posh until I point out that we were staying in the budget bit at the back. It was fine, the meals (breakfast and dinner provided) were perfectly decent. It’s a shame that we were in the middle of nowhere and were pretty much trapped in the evening. The company does put on entertainment in the evening, but bingo and cabaret isn’t really my thing, although we gave the bingo a shot. Mostly we drank wine and chatted to the other guests, and I took the opportunity to have a few baths, having brought along a couple of Lush bath bombs for the occasion.

Adamton Country House Hotel
The posh side of the hotel

Would I sign up for another National Holidays trip? Perhaps. They’re definitely aimed at older people, and the itinerary and entertainment takes this into account. However, they’re good value for money – well, cheap – and if you don’t drive they can be a good way of getting to places you’d otherwise struggle to go. My mam and I would have liked to have more control over where we went (I wish we could have avoided Girvan and paid a visit to Burns Cottage) but if there was a day or an overnight trip to a particular location (I’ve seen one to Castle Howard, where I’ve always fancied visiting), I’d certainly consider it.

Selfie in front of the hotel
Pretending this is my natural habitat

Stirling

A couple of years ago, my mam and I went to Glasgow for a holiday, but unfortunately didn’t make it to Stirling for a day out. This year, we decided to spend a few days in Stirling itself, exploring the town and the nearby sights. We left my dad at home (he really doesn’t like Scotland, for some reason) and made our separate ways to Stirling at the end of August.

My mam took the train up from Newcastle; I, having to come up from London and baulking at the ridiculous train prices, took a chance on the overnight Megabus Gold from Victoria coach station. I was actually impressed with this: it wasn’t full of drunken celebrants as I’d feared, but there were plenty of older people and families among the passengers. During the night it was very quiet, apart from the soothing sound of the bus zooming up the motorway. I probably shouldn’t have chosen a top bunk (I did have a little bit of trouble getting into it), but otherwise it wasn’t a bad journey at all.

Ruari the Reindeer
Ruari the Reindeer, my trusty travelling companion, at Stirling station

The bus terminated at Glasgow, so I had to catch the train to Stirling, but that didn’t take long at all, and mam and I were quickly able to check in to our hotel and head out to explore.

Stirling Old Town Jail
Stirling Old Town Jail

We soon discovered that Stirling is hilly. Very hilly. Walking up towards the castle, we resolved that we would be taking the bus up the next day. We broke our journey at the Old Town Jail, which was pretty entertaining.

View from the jail
View from the jail

The next day as promised we got the tour bus to Stirling Castle. This kept us busy for most of the day, as there was so much to see. We also checked out Argyll’s Lodging just down the road, also included in the price of a ticket.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle

Ruari enjoying the castle
Ruari enjoying the castle

Stirling Castle

Steep drop

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Argyll's Lodging
Argyll’s Lodging

Argyll's Lodging

The following day we decided to go a bit further afield, catching the tour bus this time to the Wallace Monument. I decided to climb it, despite my chronic laziness, but my mam elected to stay at the bottom and have a cup of tea. Our next stop was the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, and we also decided to head to the Battle of Bannockburn Experience. The actual experience was so expensive that we decided not to bother, and just had a quick look at the battle site instead, before warming up with a cup of tea.

Wallace Monument
Wallace Monument

View from the Wallace Monument

View from the Wallace Monument

Smith Art Gallery and Museum
Smith Art Gallery and Museum

Battle of Bannockburn Experience
Battle of Bannockburn Experience

Battle site
Battle site

Commemorative monument
Commemorative monument

On our final full day we went out even further, visiting Doune Castle. This castle has appeared in a number of films and TV shows, most notably Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, the audio guide is narrated by Terry Jones, and as well as pointing out all the significant historical features of the castle, he tells you about filming the movie and where important scenes were shot.

Doune Castle
Doune Castle

Doune Castle

Doune Castle

Doune Castle

The series Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, were also filmed here and extra bits have been added to the audio guide, narrated by Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraser. My mam and I are big fans so this was another plus point in the castle’s favour. Our final stop for the day was the village of Callander, where we enjoyed a nice little wander around.

Callander
Callander

The next day we caught the train to Edinburgh, where we had a few hours to kill before catching the train back to Newcastle. We couldn’t go far because of our luggage, but ended up in the National Library of Scotland, where there was an exhibition about the publisher John Murray. He happened to be Byron’s publisher, which is quite exciting.

National Library of Scotland
National Library of Scotland

I spent a few days in Newcastle relaxing before heading back down to London. I enjoyed my trip to Stirling – it’s definitely worth a visit.

Glasgow: Day 5 – Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, Mackintosh House, Tenement House and the Royal Conservatoire

On our last full day in Glasgow we walked up to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, which was a bit of a trek, but it was worth it. The museum was founded in 1807 and contains the bequest of Dr William Hunter, an eminent surgeon. It holds lots of fascinating exhibits including scientific equipment and cultural artefacts.

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The Hunterian Museum

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Inside the Hunterian Museum

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Inside the Hunterian Museum

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Inside the Hunterian Museum

Across the road, the Art Gallery contains a large collection of Whistler paintings, as well as other, varied artworks. The current exhibition, Mackintosh Architecture: Context, Making and Meaning, looks at the artist’s work in the context of his employment by the office of John Honeyman & Keppie, showing how he had his own distinctive style but also worked collaboratively as part of the firm.

Also on the site is the Mackintosh House, the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, which was reassembled following the demolition of their home at 78 Southpark Avenue (formerly 6 Florentine Terrace).

On our way up to the Hunterian we passed the Glasgow School of Art. Poor, poor Glasgow School of Art. The effects of the fire of a few months ago can be clearly seen; I hope they manage to restore it properly.

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Glasgow School of Art

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Glasgow School of Art

After leaving the Hunterian, we caught the bus again and got off just before the end to visit the Tenement House. This was a fascinating look at a typical Glaswegian home, left almost as a time capsule as it was lived in by the same woman, Agnes Toward, for over half a century. She made very few changes during her time in the house, and it was fascinating to look around.

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On the tour bus

In the evening we went to Wagamama, followed by a trip to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to see some new plays (the review is here). There were two plays, 1914 Machine and Blind Eye, and they were both very different, but we enjoyed them.

The next day my mam and I headed to Central Station, had breakfast, and parted. I returned to London, though determined to come back to Glasgow at some point!

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Goodbye Glasgow!

Glasgow: Day 4 – City Sightseeing Bus and Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

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Tour bus

On Thursday we finally got around to getting on the tour bus. We were delighted to find that our bus was an old Routemaster, and we had an actual tour guide instead of a recorded commentary. The bus journey was great and it made us realise just how big Glasgow actually is, and how full of history.

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Crossing the Clyde

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The Victorian quarter

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We got off the bus towards the end, at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. This free museum opened in 1901 and is full of many fascinating things, including and related to stuffed animals, prehistory, clothes, the Scottish Colourists, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the history of Scotland & Scottish identity and Ancient Egypt. There is also a Spitfire aeroplane hanging from the ceiling, and, famously, Salvador Dali’s seminal painting Christ of St John of the Cross.

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Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery

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Inside the Kelvingrove

After looking around the Museum – which took the rest of the day – we had a drink in the Brewdog pub across the street before getting back onto the bus.

In the evening we had tea at Ask, with a couple of glasses of wine to go with it!

Glasgow: Day 3 – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Today we went on a trip to Loch Lomond, taking a boat trip into the middle of the Loch and spending some time in Luss, a small village on its banks. My mam absolutely loved it, and it was certainly a stunningly beautiful place. Luss itself was small, but we enjoyed looking around the graveyard (yes, another one) belonging to the local church: it had graves dating from the 6th and 7th centuries, including Viking burials.

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Loch Lomond

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Luss

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Church

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Tea and whisky cake

We were both exhausted once we got back in the evening, so we went for a pub meal with some wine before going back and going to bed!

Glasgow: Day 2 – Cathedral, Necropolis, Willow Tea Rooms and Theatre Royal

Our original plan was to spend our first full day in Glasgow on the sightseeing bus. However, by the time we’d had breakfast and made it to the bus stop, there was a huge queue and we decided just to walk to the Cathedral, which was Stop 2 on the bus route anyway.

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Glasgow Cathedral

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Gates leading into the courtyard

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The Bridge of Sighs

The first thing we did was to explore the Necropolis. Opened in 1833, this huge graveyard on the top of a hill overlooking the city was inspired by the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and was designed to provide a burial solution for the quickly growing population of Glasgow. It is reached via a “Bridge of Sighs” and it is stunning. My mam and I both loved it.

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Looking at the Cathedral from the Necropolis

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Afterwards we paused to take a look around the Cathedral, including the lower level where St Mungo is supposed to be buried. By this time we were completely exhausted so we stopped for a cup of tea at the St Mungo Museum next door.

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Inside the Cathedral

On our way out Mam noticed an old-looking house called Provand’s Lordship across the road. We decided to go in, which proved a good decision. Entry to this house is free, and it is the oldest building in Glasgow, with a great deal of history.

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Provand’s Lordship

We walked back into town and went to Buchanan Street to visit the Willow Tea Rooms. These are a reconstruction of the original Willow Tea Rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. They consist of the White Tea Room and the Chinese, or Blue, Room, where we were seated. Our tea was yummy but we had to go for a lie down afterwards!

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Willow Tea Rooms

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Inside the Chinese Room

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Inside the Chinese Room

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Our yummy afternoon tea

In the evening we visited Glasgow’s Theatre Royal to see a play called April in Paris. We both enjoyed it – I wrote a review here. Afterwards we went for a drink before heading back to the hotel.

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Theatre Royal

Glasgow: Day 1 – Exploration

I enjoyed my trip to Inverness last year so much that I decided to go back to Scotland this year. This time, however, I decided to go to Glasgow, as I’d never really explored the western part of Scotland. My mam came too, and we decided to travel up separately – me from London, she from Newcastle – and meet at the Travelodge.

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Ruari the Reindeer on the train!

I had a ridiculously early train from King’s Cross, and I had to change at Edinburgh, but my journey was mostly uneventful. At Glasgow, I got a bit lost on the way to the Travelodge, but I managed to find it eventually.

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Queen Street Station

After we’d unpacked, we went for a walk around Glasgow to try and get our bearings. It reminded me a bit of Newcastle, with streets laid out in an orderly fashion. We had tea in Wetherspoon’s and then went for a drink. We didn’t stay out long, though, as we wanted to get a good night’s sleep the better to enjoy the following day!

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Settling in to the hotel

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Exploring Glasgow

Holiday in Scotland 2013

Back in August, I went up to Scotland for a week on the Caledonian Sleeper train. I didn’t want to go for a standard class cabin as they are for two people and I didn’t want to stay with a stranger. So I decided to compromise – on the way up I went for the super frugal option and sat in the normal carriage (which wasn’t as bad as it sounds) while on the way back I splashed out on first class!

Caledonian Sleeper at Euston
Caledonian Sleeper at Euston

Caledonian Sleeper at Euston
Ready to get into the carriage

It’s a shame the Caledonian Sleeper goes from Euston, as it’s possibly the ugliest station in London. Still, this didn’t stop me from being excited. I didn’t sleep very well on the way up, but I didn’t mind as watching the sun rise over the Highlands was amazing. I could hardly believe that I’d gone to sleep in crowded London and woken up surrounded by hills and deer.

The train got into Inverness at eight o’clock in the morning which gave me a whole day before I had to go and check in to my B&B. I left my luggage in the station lockers and decided to go on a Loch Ness cruise. This was fun but it was windy out on the loch – I’m definitely glad I took a coat! As part of the trip we also had a look around Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Centre, which was a kind of multimedia exhibition looking at the story of Nessie. This was surprisingly well done and fairly balanced, looking at all the possible explanations for ‘Nessie sightings’ in an interesting way. Needless to say I didn’t spot Nessie myself!

Loch Ness
Loch Ness

Nessie
Nessie

Boat trip on Loch Ness
Boat trip on Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle
Exploring the castle

Later that day I visited Culloden, which is a short bus journey out of Inverness. It’s essentially just a field, but the visitor centre is excellent. It has an exhibition which is presented on two sides of the corridor, looking at events from the English and the Scottish points of view. There is also a room where you can stand and be surrounded by a filmed re-enactment of the battle, as if you were really there – this was rather frightening!

Culloden Visitor Centre
Culloden Visitor Centre

Culloden
Culloden

Culloden
Looking around Culloden

Culloden
Exploring

Culloden
Looking around

I walked through Inverness to reach my B&B. It’s a relatively small town and I liked it a lot. Some bits were slightly run-down but there was a Victorian market and some attractive buildings, and down by the river it was really nice. I also took the chance to go to the theatre while I was there. I found out that there was a National Theatre of Scotland/RSC co-production called Dunsinane, a sequel to Macbeth, being performed that week at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. I enjoyed it even though it took some liberties with the original – such as Lady Macbeth turning up alive and well.

I was hampered during my stay by not having a car. I could have explored much more of the surrounding area if I’d been able to drive around and stop at will. However I managed to see a lot via the train! I had a day trip to Aberdeen, which was very… grey. The Maritime Museum was fairly interesting and I had a look around the Tolbooth and the art gallery.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Tolbooth Museum
Tolbooth Museum

Beer cocktail in Brewdog
Beer cocktail in Brewdog

Beer cocktail
Another cocktail – well, I was on holiday!

Aberdeen Art Gallery
Aberdeen Art Gallery

Back in Inverness, I went to the Gellions pub where William McGonagall once recited his poetry.

The Gellions Pub
The Gellions Pub

The Gellions Pub
Plaque commemorating the momentous event

I went on a day trip to the Orkney Islands. This was amazing! It involved an incredibly early start and a long coach journey but it was worth it.

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At John O’Groats

John O
Looking out to sea from John O’Groats

We visited the capital of the Orkney, Kirkwall.

St Magnus Cathedral
St Magnus Cathedral

Kirkwall Harbour
Kirkwall Harbour

I got to see the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, which was just incredible. It has been really well preserved and though you can’t walk through it (or it wouldn’t be well preserved any more) they have made a replica that you CAN walk through so you can picture how it all used to look.

Skara Brae
Skara Brae

Skaill House
Skaill House

Also on the tour I visited the Ring of Brodgar, which is a stone circle a bit like Stonehenge, though the setting is much more atmospheric, I think. It reminded me of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ books, in which the heroine goes through a stone circle in Scotland and ends up in the middle of the Jacobite rising – I could almost imagine I could travel back in time with the stones myself!

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar

As the coach went past some of the lagoons which lie between the islands, I could see rusty skeletons of old ships poking out of the water.

Ghostly WW1 ships
Ghostly WW1 ships

Our guide told us that they were old WWI ships that had been decommissioned and brought here during WWII in order to create a barrier preventing German U-boats from getting through. Only, one did manage to get through and sunk a ship, killing hundreds of seamen. Apparently, years later, the widow of one of the men who died was granted her last wish on her death – to be buried with her husband. So her ashes were taken down into the sea. It’s a sweet, but very sad story.

The tour also found time to stop at the Italian chapel. This was a beautiful little Catholic church built by Italian prisoners of war during the 1940s.

Italian church
Italian church

Italian church
Inside the church

I travelled on a lot of trains during my trip. As well as taking the train to the west coast and going on to Skye, I had a ride on the Strathspey steam railway. It stopped at the station which was used on the BBC drama Monarch of the Glen.

Aviemore Station
Aviemore Station

Strathspey Railway
Strathspey Railway

Inside the train
Inside the train

Boat of Garten Station
Boat of Garten Station

Boat of Garten Station
Boat of Garten Station

Broomhill
‘Glenbogle’ aka Broomhill Station

Steam train
Steam train

Countryside
Beautiful view of the countryside

Train at Aviemore
Back at Aviemore

The same day, I also went up the Cairngorm Mountain on the furnicular railway. It was freezing on the top, but there were some spectacular views.

Cairngorm Mountain
At the foot of Cairngorm Mountain

Cairngorm Mountain
Looking around

Furnicular railway
Furnicular railway

Furnicular railway
Getting on the railway

Furnicular railway
Lovely view

Cairngorm Mountain
Stunning views

Cairngorm Mountain
Amazing view going down

I also went to Dundee for the day. It took about three hours on the train, but I was dying to go for two reasons. Firstly, because it was the hometown of William McGonagall. I saw the Tay Bridge (Mark 2) with my own eyes – it was so long and the river so wide that it really brought home just how terrifying it must have been for the passengers who died when it collapsed.

The second reason was to visit Discovery Point, where Captain Scott’s Antarctic exploration ship RSS Discovery is kept. I’m really interested in Antarctica and especially the ‘heroic age’ of exploration. I loved the museum – the ship itself has been sympathetically restored and the exhibitions inside the building have been really well thought out.

Discovery Point
Penguins at Discovery Point

Discovery Point
Discovery Point

Discovery Point
RRS Discovery

Discovery Point
Antarctica mosaic

Discovery Point
Rather creepy video

Discovery Point
On deck

I also found time to visit the Verdant Works.

Verdant Works
Verdant Works

Verdant Works
Inside the Verdant Works

You can’t go to Scotland without visiting a whisky distillery. I chose to visit Glen Moray, mainly because it was the only one I could reach via train.

Glen Moray Distillery

Glen Moray Distillery
Plaque on the wall

Glen Moray Distillery
Vats of grain

Glen Moray Distillery
Mash Tun

Glen Moray Distillery
Inside the distillery

Glen Moray Distillery
Surrounded by whisky barrels

Glen Moray Distillery
Sampling some whisky

Glen Moray Distillery
The whisky I tried

I came back with a lot of alcohol, particularly beer.

Beer
I didn’t mean to buy so much, honest…

I had a great time on the way back in my first class cabin – sadly grey and modern rather than the wood-panelled warmth I always associate in my mind with sleeper trains – but it was great having my breakfast brought to me in the morning!

Caledionian Sleeper
Relaxing with some wine

Caledonian Sleeper
Yummy breakfast

I didn’t get a chance to go to Glasgow or Fort William, or travel on the famous West Highland Line, but I may be going back next year with my mam. I hope so – I had a brilliant time and I’d love to see some more of Scotland.