Edinburgh and beyond
Roadtrips around Britain
It’s hard to overstate the poetry of Edinburgh. Even when crossing the North Bridge in a screaming gale, fearing you lost your nose five streets ago. It’s hard to be grumpy with the magnificent Old Town spread out in front of you, and Arthur’s seat rearing up to your left.
But if you’re in Edinburgh for a while, I highly recommend getting out and driving through some of the countryside. As those who live in Scotland (but not in Edinburgh) like to say occasionally, Edinburgh isn’t as Scottish as the rest of the place. So if you really want to get a feel for the soul and history of this porridge-with-salt, haggis-neeps-and-tatties country, you’ll need to get out.
Spires, spectres and spirits (of the whiskey kind)
So have a float around Edinburgh, and soak in the … this might naff, but really the only word to describe it … soak in the majesty of it all. Really. Go there. You’ll see. Pop up the Royal Mile and drop in on the city’s number one tourist attraction – that castle. For a dose of depressing and chilling history I vigorously suggest you take a night tour of Edinburgh’s graveyards, which still sometimes have pieces of bone surfacing if it rains too hard. Interesting, and cheaper than a colostomy.
For those who’re fond of brisk walks and the best views in town, there’s Arthur’s Seat – an extinct volcano sitting plum in the centre of the city. And for those fond of a drink – welcome to the happiest time in your life. The Grassmarket is a probably the best place to start, with pubs like Biddy Mulligans, and The Last Drop. Whistle Binkies on the South Bridge for live music. And to finish the night? Well, this is a quick plug for the Penny Black. Be warned, it opens around 6am and it’s not always pretty. But it’s a damn good romp if you’re already seeing double.
To get out and about to see the surrounding areas, you’ve got trains and buses which can take you to most places, but if you want to be able to go where you want, when you want, it’s very hard to beat renting out a little car for a few days. If you're booking through the internet to save money, sites like http://www.vroomvroomvroom.co.uk (Car Hire Edinburgh ) are good because they have contracts with all the biggest car rental companies, and you can then directly compare prices and grab a good deal.
Nearby for a quick trip
So, once you're motorised, you should wander through nearby border towns like Peebles. Great for a pint and chat in beautiful surrounds. The Tweed River is great for fishing too, if you feel you’re up to facing the weather.
A must-do would be Stirling, visiting its castle, and wandering around the site at Bannockburn where the Scottish won their independence fighting the British hordes in 1314. There’s also the National Wallace Monument nearby – a tribute to the country’s most famous freedom-fighter. He was the poor man who was embarrassingly portrayed by Mel Gibson sporting a dodgy mullet in Braveheart. Where’s Ewan McGregor when you need him?
Onwards and upwards for monsters, battles and hairy people armed with firewater
Then, keeping onwards, and sort of to the West, you’ve got Oban and the little ferries which can get you to the Scottish Isles. Because you’re in the area, it’d be very silly not to go to Fort William (only a millimetre or two away on the map). From here you can explore Glen Nevis – the area is the natural wonder version of the man-made beauty to be found in Edinburgh. You’ll need a lucky streak, though, if you want a cloudless day when climbing to the peak of the area’s most popular mountain, Ben Nevis.
From here you could either start heading back in a roundabout fashion turning east and frolicking through Perth, Dundee and St Andrews, or set your car to speedy and head on up to Inverness to take a trip out monster-hunting on the freaky dark waters of Loch Ness. Another battlefield heavy with history is a small trip away from Inverness – the moor of Culloden. The last battle to be fought on British soil – it was bloody and quick, and followed by a very nasty period of brutality and suppression of the Scottish way of life, even though the battle wasn't really Scottish versus English. It was more a spat between rich boys over a crown.
If you haven't turned back by now, it would seem you're in for the long-haul. Further on up would then be your only option – the beautiful and lonely Highlands await. Go, and drink firewater with the reddest and hairiest Scotsmen of them all.