1. Even vegetarian haggis is delicious. Now mind you, I never tried the real thing, but all my family members and friends that came to visit would tell you that it is delicious. The kind I tried, courtesy of the vegetarian version made at World’s End pub on the Royal Mile, made with lentils and such to simulate the texture, was amazing. You can even purchase both kinds in a can!
2. Highland cows (or coos, if you will). The cutest damn fuzzy beasts there ever were!
3. Accents. I’m speaking in a brogue in my head right now if it helps. I just love it. A real Scottish accent is just plain splendid. There isn’t an accent grander in the world with those rolling consonants and sloshing words.
4. Tartans. If you know your history about the highland clearances and such, and how tartans were banned for decades, you will appreciate the freedom with which they are worn and adopted now. There are so many beautiful combinations and colors. From hunting tartans to the Black Watch, you’ll scarce find anything so elegant. Hell, even the English and Irishmen wear it for fancy occasions!
5. Bagpipes. What started as a Scottish clan instrument is now a global sound of reverence and beauty. Nothing makes me more melancholy for the glens of Scotland than the heartbreaking echo of bagpipes.
6. Edinburgh. Step off the train and into another time. If you’re fortunate enough to visit, take the free walking tour and learn more than you thought possible about the Royal Mile. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter on napkins in Edinburgh’s Elephant Room café, and gravestones with names like McGonagall can be found in Greyfriars’ Kirkyard. On Candlemaker Row, it’s said that the ashes of burned witches are in the mortar of the brick buildings. Learn the tale of Burke & Hare and their infamous, murderous, body-selling ways. After you’ve learned all you can, stop into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde tavern, as Edinburgh is where Robert Louis Stevenson hails from.
7. Stirling. Visit the famous Stirling Bridge, which, if at the very least you’re familiar with Braveheart, you’ll know a great battle took place there. The River Forth cuts this stunning valley apart, and the triumphant Wallace Monument looms above all. And yes, that’s Wallace for William Wallace, who you might better recognize as Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart. Stirling Castle still paints its royal hall in bright colors, as was done when the castle was actually inhabited, and replicas are currently being created of the famous Unicorn tapestries. You can watch mighty looms being worked to create these replicas, as well as learn all about castle life in Scotland.
8. Inverness & Loch Ness. The town sits at the gates to the Highlands, and its charm is unbeatable. From exquisite restaurants on the riverside to its museum, it’s the perfect place to stay at a B&B and set off to visit the Loch. While there are many ways to get to Loch Ness, a company by the name of Jacobite Cruises will pick you up in town, drive you to the boat (giving you history along the way), cruise you around the actual Loch (look out for the beast!) and take you to tour Urquhart Castle ruins. It will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you see the sun glimmer off that eerie water.
9. St. Andrews. Besides its stunning golf course, Saint Andrews boasts of the most beautiful cathedral ruins and graveyards, right alongside a rocky coast. Accessible by train, Saint Andrews is full of history, and its museum is fantastic. The sun always seems to be shining in Saint Andrews. You also might see some Uni students in their classic red robes.
10. Isle of Skye. One of the most beautiful places in all the world. You must see it for yourself to believe it.
11. All of the Highlands, as a matter of fact. The farther you go North, the more signs are posted both in Gaelic and in English. Good luck sounding those alternate names out.
12. Dundee. One of the premier ship-building ports in all the UK at one time, there are some impressive ships on display in Dundee, as well as a fantastic museum. The HM Frigate Unicorn is still afloat in Dundee, which is one of the six oldest remaining warships in the world, and one of the most complete wooden warships still intact. You can go into the Unicorn, and imagine yourself a crewmember during stranger, more adventurous days.
13. Scottish people. They have better humor, more backbone, and more spirit than you could possibly find anywhere else. They are kind, generous, and not afraid to speak their minds. They do their ancestors proud, if you ask me. One of the best examples of this would be the story of the “Stone of Destiny,” or the Stone of Scone, in which the English stole the Scottish coronation stone, and in the 1970s, a group of Scottish Uni students stole it back… out of Westminster Abbey! There is a film about it if you’re interested in learning more.
14. Men in Kilts. I don’t care if you’re male or female. A male in full Scottish dress and kilt is a fantastic thing to see. I’ve seen my fair share of Scotsmen riding bikes in kilts, which is a whole separate spectacle.
15. Robert Burns. If you haven’t read Robbie Burns, I don’t know what to say to you or how to explain it. I’d start with “To A Mouse”; ‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,/ O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!’ Burns is the great poet of Scotland, and there are many a statue and monument in his honor all over the country.
16. Sir Walter Scott. Without this great writer, we’d have no such thing as “Rob Roy” (and no Liam Neeson dashing about in a kilt!) or “Ivanhoe.” If you enjoy a good adventure, especially one involving kilts or Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Uprisings, “Waverly” is a must-read. It is history with a wee punch of dashing action and beautiful (albeit exaggerated maybe) imagery of the Highlands. Don’t say I didn’t warn you that it’s a bit biased in the way of the Scots favoring Scotland over England.
17. Shortbread. Have you not had Walkers shortbread? Cliché, I know, but it’s delicious.
18. The tomb of Robert the Bruce. You can actually visit the tomb of the real Robert the Bruce in Dunfermline, Scotland. The Abbey itself is gorgeous, with peacocks strutting about the grounds, but his grave is hauntingly beautiful, not to mention a wildly important piece of history.
19. Scotch Whisky. Though not a drinker myself, I’d be lying if I told you that whisky distilleries were not abundant and fascinating. There are tastings at every highland games I’ve attended, and when I took my mother on a walking tour on a rainy day in Edinburgh, she ducked into a gift shop and dumped a shooter or three of it into her coffee. It’s hard not to warm to (literally).
20. Scottish history. Whether it’s about the clans, the Picts, or the Jacobites, it’s all so thrilling. The best part is that when you visit the hollowed grounds where battles like Bannockburn or Stirling bridge took place, you can feel the presence of those spirits still there. Scotland hasn’t been completely ravaged by change quite yet, and its beauty is well-preserved.
I could go on forever, but this serves as a short list of the reason to visit Scotland, to love Scotland, and probably why you just might not come back from Scotland. Ye ken?