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Scotland, Hiking, and London

Thought I should get down a few thoughts before I forget them! I just got home last week and it already feels like so long ago.

Edited to add Clothing: You can stop worrying about what you wear to the UK. The general aesthetic here is "who cares". Unless someone is going to the work or are a youth out clubbing, they look like the rest of us schlubs. Sneakers with dress? Fine. Jeans at the theater? Fine. Printed t-shirt and shorts? Fine. Maybe dress if you're meeting the queen or going somewhere special, otherwise save you're worrying energy for the transportation system.

Scotrail: Not sure what’s happening with them and strikes, but they were cancelling trips up to a couple days before. Check often, including right before traveling.

Glasgow: This is a great city and should be given more consideration than a day trip. Unless you don't like cities, in which case, never mind. But it was fun! I stayed at the Ibis Styles St. George Square. I'm sure I had a good reason for not staying at the Grasshopper that comes so highly recommended, but I'm also sure I have no idea what the reason was. This Ibis was perfectly located south of the square, with easy walking to the Argyle shopping street to the south, lots of restaurants, and not too far to Central Station, but most easily accessible to Queen Street Station and the City Sightseeing Bus. I stayed at a couple of these in Poland and like this chain, as far as chains go. The museums- Kelvingrove especially and the Tenement House- and all things Charles Macintosh are the best reasons to come to Glasgow. It was also an easy train ride to Balloch to do the 2-hour boat tour of Loch Lomand. There is a one-hour but if you have time, the longer tour would be worth it. I didn't get to Helensburgh to see the Hill House but there are trains to get there from Glasgow and buses between Helensburgh and Balloch. The problem was that the buses are a couple hours apart so if you miss one, it's a long wait. I wasn't willing to risk it so will save the Hill House for next time. The House for an Art Lover, though, is in Glasgow a bus ride away from the center and worth a trip out. It's in a nice park which provides a nice walk from the street to the site. The cafe looked busy enough although I didn't eat there. The City Sightseeing hoho bus is great! It actually goes to most sites on a tourist's list, and I used it to get around to as many as I could fit it on the first day. Adding a second day is only a pound more, so worth doing. That second day I wasn't ready to go back to the hotel so rode it around town once more just for fun. It's not a bad evening when the weather is good and the sun is going to be up until 10pm anyway. (The bus does make it's last run at about 19:30 though). If you're interested in a whisky tasting, then definitely contact the Pot Still. They need at least a weeks notice but it's so worth it. I'm not a whisky drinker but told them what I do drink and the bartender pulled things based on that and he then talked to me for an hour and a half about whisky, distilleries, production, etc. He even found a few that I liked! Now I have to make room on the booze shelf for whisky too.

Glasgow tl;dr: Make reservations at the Pot Still for a private tasting and do the City Sightseeing bus. Also see Mackintosh stuff.

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Edinburgh: Stayed at the Linton Collection apartments, which worked out great. They are on North Bridge just south of the train station. Someone gave directions for people with heavier suitcases but I took the Market St exit out to the Scotsman Steps that go up to North Bridge. They were redone by an artist with a different marble on each step that you can admire while you're wondering when these stupid steps will finally end. (They aren't that bad until you put a couple bottles of whisky in the suitcase). Most of them have a washing machine (no dryer), but this was enough. Verify on the website. It was nice to have a kitchenette for breakfast at least. I could have cooked but I was on vacation and not long enough to justify cooking for myself. There is the usual stuff to see, but if you want to get outdoors, hike up Arthur's Seat. The path from Holyrood Park isn't too bad- other trails coming up are steeper but this is a good one. If you want to get to the tippy top, there will be some boulder scrambling but even from below the boulders, there is a good view. It's busy so don't expect to get all kinds of selfies at the top marker. Take one and move on. I also got outside by renting a bike at Leith Cycle to ride the Water of Leith Path. First, you know how you “never forget how to ride a bike”? This is a lie. I was a little too wobbly to be safe on the streets, which I needed to ride through to get to the path. Then going from where I got on to the Museum of Modern Art past Dean Village isn’t fully connected. There were a couple times that I had to carry the bike up stairs and back down to keep following the path. And Dean’s Village is busy so I ended up walking the bike most the way in this area. Didn’t want to hot someone or end up in the river (see “wobbly” above). Coming back, I got turned around and took some time to get back on the path going the right direction so I didn’t have to walk around Leith as much as I wanted. The path from Stockbridge or so to Leith is blessedly connected so that was nice and lunch at Teucher’s Landing was great. The royal boat there came recommended to me by a couple people but that will have to be saved for next time. Bottom line is renting a bike is great, but ride between Stockbridge to Leith. Walk Dean Village and take a bus to the modern art museums. I didn’t get to see the collection but wish I could have. The grounds aren’t bad either. Falkirk is easy to get to but getting from the station to and from the Kelpies was an ordeal. I didn’t see taxis to get there so ended up walking the couple miles. The bus stop at the Kelpies was closed so had to walk to the other end of the park and ended up finding a taxi there to get back to the train, which was better than looking for the bus stop. I had planned on going from there to the Wheel but decided it was too much trouble. If you have a phone with data and can get uber or call a taxi service, that’s the way to do this.

Edinburgh, tl;dr: Go outside. Walk the Royal Mile, hike Arthur’s Seat, bike but only from Stockbridge to Leith. Buy whisky from the Royal Mile Whiskies at 379 High Street (the guy at Pot Still in Glasgow recommended them and they know their stuff. I think anyway. I’ll update if dad doesn’t like the one they suggested for him).

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Hiking Tour on Skye: Was supposed to go with REI pre-covid but they aren’t doing int’l trips anymore so I got some good recommendation from people here but those tours were a little outside what I wanted to spend this time. They are saved in my files for another time. For this trip I went with Walkabout Scotland. If you want a fully catered tour with a fancy bus, then this isn’t the one for you. We had a functional van and bought our own lunches (premade sandwiches and whatever snacks we wanted) at the local markets each day before hiking. It was great! They took care of breakfast and dinner and accommodations as best they could- Portree is very busy now so make reservations and if it’s dinner at a hotel you aren’t staying in, it could be cancelled- so being a little flexible helps but they do the best they can. The guide can adapt hikes to the groups skill level but pushes you to do a little beyond what you think you can. Not beyond what anyone could handle, but enough that the few days of hiking feels like an accomplishment. Plus the weather was spectacular. I packed for all the rain and cold I heard Scotland has and we didn’t get it until the last couple days. I finally got to use the rain pants I brought with me so that was exciting! Never did get to use the gaiters I bought there, though. Or the midge net. Gaiters would only be useful if it’s very wet grassy trails but no actual rain. For than, you need rain pants. The gaiters are in a drawer until I go back. The midge net will be there until I get married and then become a widow. Maybe in the worst of the season this would be useful, but I’d suggest buying some Smidge instead. To buy these and other hiking equipment, try Sports Direct (cheap, I got a hiking pole for 6.50 and left it on the van because it was too big to pack home), Mountain Warehouse (gaiters for about 13, hiking tee for 15, other cheap stuff that won’t last long but good enough for one trip), plus Tiso and other places that carry the higher quality cost brand names. These stores are centrally located in Glasgow and Edinbugh and in Fort William so not hard to get to and saves from having to check a suitcase with a hiking pole. If you get to southern Skye, check out the Tir Alainn B&B. They were only doing groups when we were there but that may change. Or if you’re traveling with a few people or a couple of couples then it might be an option. The hosts are amazing and can tell you all about Skye and the hikes and whisky.

Skye, tl;dr: You should come here but be respectful of the locals and drive carefully (but not too slowly). I think some people are a little tired of the crowds after a couple years of peace. It’s a beautiful place. Buy Smidge instead of a net.

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London: I got lucky and beat all the strikes. Stayed at the Hub by Premier Inn at Goodge Street. I can’t really recommend it. The room was large since I got a big room because I wanted an exterior window (some single rooms don’t have this and that would make me crazy), and the location was good and central, which I wanted in case of tube strikes. But the Hub, the less expensive Premier version, is based on some gimmicky technology that didn’t always work. I didn’t get wifi in the room a couple nights out of four, which is a problem when trying to plan a day and not wanting to be seen in public in what I wear to bed. I had to go to the lobby the night before leaving to get a boarding pass because the wifi wasn’t working that night. And since the a/c resets every time you leave, the room didn’t really cool down enough. (Those UK weather jokes aren’t coming from June). And to turn on the lights, there are buttons on the headboard. If you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and then decide you need lights, you have to go back to the headboard and try to turn on the one you want. Being alone wasn’t a problem but if you hit the wrong button and someone else is there trying to sleep, you may accidently blast them with full room lighting. The room was comfortable but until the wifi is reliable, it’s too frustrating and I’d pick somewhere else. Since the Premier chain is recommended here, try the regular PI at Holborn. That seemed like a nice location. The other issue, not the hotel’s fault, is that even before the strikes start, there are staffing issues with the Tube. They shut down some of the lesser stations, like Goodge St, at night. I was able to get on there in the morning but had to get off at another station and walk back at night. This worked ok for me, but others may not appreciate it. This is rather minor given all the strike threats but it’s something to keep in mind and it can be checked on the website. Otherwise, I really liked the location. Close enough to everything if you do have to walk, far enough away from Covent Garden and other busy areas to be quiet, but not too quiet and there were people on the street when walking back from the theater at night (better for safety).

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Last one!

My next London trip will include a boat tour on the Thames, but the Uber Bus worked well too. Took that from Tower Pier to Westminster Pier and even without the commentary, it was nice to see the city from the water. The Superbloom is very bloomy yet but hopefully it gets better. I reserved a time on the public path but it wasn’t needed right now. It wasn’t busy enough for anyone to care. Going in to the moat, however, needs a paid ticket, but make sure the flowers are blooming first to not be disappointed. The Skygarden is a good place for a view. Prereserve a ticket to save time, even if you do it right before going. They say it’s an hour limit but no one checked. The “garden” part isn’t extensive but you’re really there for the view. For the British Museum, I’d recommend an out of hours tour. These start at 9am and get you in before the crowds. I had signed up for an Egyptian one that got cancelled a few days before I got there but they were able to rebook me on the one that talks about the start of the museum. It was a lot more interesting that I expected and got me into rooms that I probably would have skipped. It was also downstairs so as soon as it was over, I could go to the Rosetta stone and really look at it before the crowds gather starting at 10:30. I tried to focus on only a few sections so I would be there for hours, but that didn’t work. Don’t think I got out of there until 2 or 3 and still didn’t stop at everything. Also recommend the African section at the lower level unless you plan on going to Benin sometime soon. The Westminster Abbey Verger tour is well worth the 10 pounds. Get to the line 20 minutes before you want to go in because everyone, with or without a prepaid ticket, was waiting in it. Not sure if we were supposed to but no one was giving other direction. Regents Park is lovely, especially with the roses blooming and would be a good place for a picnic. St. James Park is also nice to walk around but the birds own that park and know it. They didn’t attack anyone but they also aren’t afraid of people and won’t move. Don’t think they can be trusted. I bought an early so cheap ticket for Heathrow Express, and that was the only good thing about Heathrow. Can we say sucks here, because the airport sucks. They moved us from one checkpoint to the other to even out crowds but I’m not sure how it helped. And the shuttle from the main T5 to the outer gates wasn’t working so everyone walked. Allow time to get out there if you have to. Allow time for everything. If you get lucky and have time then have a tea at the Fortnum and Mason bar.

London tl;dr: Good luck if you’re going in the next month or two. Those strikes sound heckish. Staying central was my strike backup plan. Check out the parks- Regent’s Park and St. James especially. Skygarden is nice for a free view of the City but boat views are great too. Early tour at the British Museum to avoid the crowds for a little while, and Verger (pronounce the “g” as in giraffe- I didn’t know this) tour at Westminster Abbey are both worth the cost.

Other: A tap credit card will make your life easier. It saves time and can also be used on all the buses and metro in Scotland and London. It makes keeping track of spending harder than using cash but some places (Dishoom restaurant for one) don’t do cash anymore.

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I'm putting together a Trip report right now of my trip to Scotland so it was fun to read yours and compare notes. I regret not walking Arthur's Seat.

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Thanks for the great info. I’m heading to Edinburgh next year and appreciate you taking the time to write a report. I’m also looking forward to Allan’s report. 😊

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Great report! Amusing as well as informative. We will be in Scotland in August and I am bookmarking this for reference.

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1126 posts

This was great, thank you! I'm going to Edinburgh for the first time next year so enjoyed reading this. I also keep trying to decide if I'll do a daytrip to Glasgow or not.

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Enjoyed the report - and the dry humor. :) I leave on my delayed/adjusted 2020 trip to Scotland in less than 2 weeks, so this was a particularly fun read!

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1780 posts

We were in Edinburgh and London a couple years ago so fun to read your reflections!

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Thank you for your report! My husband and I head to Scotland this September on a RS tour, and we've added days before that to explore Glasgow and Edinburgh. Your tips are appreciated!

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Editing to also recommend the Literary Pub Tour in Edinburgh. It’s a focus on Scottish authors but gives you history in a fun way, with pub stops to further honor the writers with toasts. It’s not a serious tour or for under 18, but who wants serious on vacation?